1. Waking up. “The alarm clock jerks 37-year-old Rachel Farrant out of a sound sleep. She groans and fumbles to shut it off.”
Don’t use the alarm clock. It won’t grab anyone’s attention. Did it work in Groundhog Day? You bet. Will it work in your story? No.
2. A dream. Particularly a dream that starts out like a normal scene and then weird things begin to happen before, oh twist, it turns out it was all just a dream.
3. Alarm clocks, ringtones, knockings on doors – leave them out. The smell of breakfast rousing your protagonist from her slumber. Your protagonist getting out of bed to look at themselves in the mirror. Your protagonist waking up on the first day of anything in particular.
4. Weather/landscape description.
Crack open a book, see a description of rolling hills with mountains in the distance and purple mist, and you will slide the book back on the shelf.
5. Clichés like “once upon a time in a land far away.”
This is an obvious one, but apparently people still do it. Unless you KNOW it’s a cliché and you are doing it to be witty or funny, skip it!
6. Description of the town/kingdom/planet/etc.
It’s too early in the story for readers to care about the kind of cars people drive in your world, and their system of government, and how the town got started, or the races of people that live there.
7. Detailed character descriptions or back-story.
Don’t clutter the opening—the most critical part of your entire book—with unimportant details. In all honestly, how important is the color of the characters’ eyes or hair? Does it tell us anything about her desires, struggles, or personality? Not likely.
Hinting at back-story is fine, but do not delve into a lengthy description of what happened before the story started, we want to know what is happening now. Don’t start with a biography—telling where your character was born and where they went to school and who their best friend was and how they grew up with so and so, and then got a job doing such and such, and became emotionally scarred because of this or that, etc.
Prologues are just another cheap way of stuffing a bunch of back-story in. If you can, work in the information somewhere else—maybe even if you need to have a flashback later on. Readers are put off by prologues that they don’t understand and have visibly little to do with the actual first chapter.
9. An outlandish shocking zany hooker.
Everyone tells you to write an attention-grabbing opening sentence, right? This leads many beginners to start with things like, “When I woke up that morning, I had no idea my little sister would turn into an alien and try to kill me.” It’s crazy, it’s out-of-the-ordinary, it’s sure to hook a reader, right? Wrong. It’s boring. It’s red flag amateurish and sounds desperate. I’m grateful when people do open this way, it allows me to instantly know I shouldn’t waste time reading it.
10. Things the reader does not understand.
One of the main offenders of this is rule is when people start off with lengthy unexplained dialogue. Don’t have a bunch of dialogue without tags. Sometimes even one sentence is too long with no context for the reader to understand it in. We want to know who is speaking, where they are, and who they are speaking to.
As a general rule, don’t start us off with things we don’t understand. We won’t be curious and want to solve the mystery of what the heck you are talking about, we will be confused and bored and look for something that doesn’t seem like it needs a prerequisite to the first page. It is like when you’re in a class that’s way over your head in school and you don’t understand a thing, so you’re really bored.
From NOVEL SECRETS (paperback or Kindle) http://smarturl.it/novsec