Here is another update on the Write Your Novel In A Year series from Writers Write. We’re up to week 41 but I’m going to focus on Week 40: 3 Rules You Can Break to Start Your Story. I like rules and generally follow them. I think most writers have their own particular hard and fast ones, and play loose on other ones. Jenny Crusie is anti-prologue, Nora Roberts head hops, and Linda Howard writes big sections of straight narrative. And I like their stories. The three the blogger offers are never start your novel with a prologue, never start your novel with a description of the weather, and never start your novel with your main character alone in bed.
Prologues. Jenny Crusie was fanatically against prologues. I don’t mind them if they’re needed. I’ve read some that are and some that aren’t – or more likely, can be attributed to a lazy author who would just put it up front rather than parse out the information throughout the story as needed. In Lord of Scoundrels, Loretta Chase starts with a prologue chronicling Dane’s childhood and a few key moments in his formation. I felt that it was a good use of prologue. I don’t like the ones that flash forward to the end of the story. Sometimes, I’ll write a prologue, knowing that it will come out later but I need to get the backstory written down so that I can then take the important bits and insert them as needed for the reader to understand my character’s motivation.
Description of the weather. It was a dark and stormy night. According to Wikipedia, Writer’s Digest described this sentence as “the literary posterchild for bad story starters” and the American Book Review ranked it as #22 on its “Best first lines from novels list.” Hmmm. I definitely like stories to start with conflict so I can go along with this one, but if weather is a key component/influence on the opening scene, a bit about what that weather is could be important.
Alone in bed. If the character wakes up alone in bed, there aren’t very many avenues for conflict. However, the first scene sets up the characters world and then whammo – it is turned upside down. I can’t think of a story that starts with waking along in bed, then the world changes, but I can imagine how that might be done.
The “pin it, quote it, believe it” at the end of this post is “Beware of advice – even this!” from Carl Sandburg. I think that applies very well to this advice. Usually prologues aren’t necessary, weather shouldn’t be the first thing, and characters shouldn’t be alone (the sittin’/drivin’ and thinkin’ opener) but sometimes it can work. Doesn’t Jenny have one that starts with a character driving and there is a collision that starts the ball rolling?
What rules are hard and fast to you and which do you break all the time?