Avoiding Clichéd and Ineffective Beginnings

If you’re struggling with how to start your book, take note of the following clichéd and ineffective beginnings and try to avoid them.

1. Lengthy descriptions.

Sprinkle descriptions, explanations, backstories, and other details throughout the book instead of dumping them in chapter one. At the start of the book readers don’t necessarily need to know all the reasons why the protagonist is on a faraway planet battling aliens. This might bring the action to a screeching halt and possibly overwhelm and confuse readers. Instead, focus on describing the heart-stopping fight.

2. The protagonist wakes up from a nightmare.

This opening is one of the most common. The nightmare is described, then the protagonist wakes up with a start, sweating and with her heart pounding. She gradually realizes she’s home safe in her bed and that she was only dreaming. Find a fresh and more memorable way of illustrating that the protagonist is haunted by her past, which is usually the case.

3. The protagonist reflects on a dramatic event that happened recently.

Instead of telling readers about what already happened and how the protagonist feels about it, show the scene unfolding. This provides more tension and urgency and makes the story engaging. Readers will feel a stronger connection to the protagonist right away because they’re living this important event along with the character.

4. Pointless dialogue.

Dialogue needs to be interesting, and it needs to move the story forward. So avoid rambling dialogue that goes nowhere. In addition, don’t allow your characters to divulge information about the plot or their backstories if it sounds unnatural in dialogue.

5. A ringing phone wakes up the protagonist.

Getting a call in the middle of the night can be frightening and disorienting, but those feelings don’t quite translate when you’re reading about it happening to someone else. Instead of the police chief waking up the protagonist to tell him there’s been a murder, perhaps start with the cop already at the murder scene. This also allows you to skip other mundane actions like the protagonist getting dressed and grabbing a cup of coffee on the way out the door.

Now that you’re aware of a few beginnings to avoid, let your imagination run wild on alternatives. Whether you’re submitting your manuscript to an agent or a publisher or writing an already contracted book, the time you spend on constructing a unique and intriguing first chapter will certainly pay off.

—The Editors


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