Story Beginnings: Agent and Publisher Opinions


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Last week I talked about the opening sentence. You guys had a great debate in the comments, so it's clear that we all have different opinions. So, in lieu of so many of you starting a new story for NaNoWriMo, I thought I would share some of the tidbits from Hooked that the author got straight from agents and editors.  
What beginning makes them stop reading?


  • You didn't get them on page one. We need to have them at hello.
  • Starting with backstory or a static character introduction.
  • Hooking the reader with something that has nothing to do with the story--a gotcha.
  • Not clearly identifying the POV character--sex, age, etc.
  • Starting with weather, scenery, dreams, waking up for the day, or a passive scene (any description should be about movement).
  • Too much tell not enough show.
  • Pulling a bait and switch--i.e. having an opening that is dark and serious then jumping to a chick litty voice in the next scene/chapter.
  • Clunky sentences, bad grammar, hemorrhaging adverbs, etc. One editor said that if sentence one isn't good, why should he expect it's going to get any better with sentence two. Others said that by the end of the first page, they know if the person can write or not.
So what should you do to get them to turn the page?
  • Start with people--novels are not about scenery
  • Don't open with a villain. You want your readers to connect with your protagonist first. (An agent admitted that many established authors do this, but it's typically in series where the reader is already familiar with the protagonist.)
  • Starting in the middle of the action.
  • Having an irresistible hook.
  • Action, conflict, crisis, or danger (this from agent Janet Reid).

Additional advice from the agents/editors...
  • Don't worry about your beginning until you finish the book. Once you have a whole, it's easier to know where to start.
  • Oftentimes the first three chapters can be scrapped because it's just you working out the story for yourself.
Alright, so at least that gives us permission to write crappy beginnings the first go round. :) 
So what about you guys? What do you think of this advice? Do you have trouble finding the right place to start? Have you made any of these mistakes above?
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"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - U2
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