- Beginning the story too early. Yes, you need to start the story just before the pie hits the fan, but not two years before. Try the same day as the inciting incident. That gives the reader time to become invested in the characters. Drop the reader into the middle of what's happening to the character.
- Vagueness caused by lengthy exposition and dialogue. Establish time, a sense of place and conflict right away.
- Non-stop action with no down time to get the character's reaction. Character reaction gives the reader time to catch their breath.
- Uninteresting characters. Main characters who are doing things that don't endear them to the reader, i.e. stealing, snooping, or stalking a handsome or beautiful neighbor they want to get to know. You need a "save the baby moment" early on with the hero/heroine to make them sympathetic to the reader.
- Bad first lines. For instance, starting with a funny first line then leading into a sad death scene. The first line is the story promise. There is nothing funny about death.
- Paragraph after paragraph of backstory. Prolonged backstory at the beginning doesn't give the reader time to get to know the character. Ever met someone new at a party who unloaded a lot of personal information on you? You couldn't get away fast enough, could you? But with friends and loved ones you will listen.Terry O'dell says that "back story should be trickled in like an IV drip, not poured in through a tube feeding." This is the way it is with characters. If readers get to know them, they will want to read some backstory but little bits sprinkled throughout the story. You need to know your character's backstory so you can decide what their goals, motivations, conflicts (GMC) are. But the reader doesn't need to know this: they only need to know the GMC's. Providing backstory too early stops the story and removes the mystery about the characters.
- Chapter ending with no question, foreshadowing, hook, or any reason to turn the page. If the chapter has resolved the story problem then there's no reason to read further.
Monday, March 28, 2011
After reading contest entries for the past month, there are a few things I've picked up about first chapters. The following are some of the mistakes you might avoid if you're submitting to a contest or an agent/editor.