The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

This column is excerpted from Guide to Literary Agents, from Writer’s Digest Books.

No one reads more prospective novel beginnings than literary agents.

They’re the ones on the front lines, sifting through inboxes and slush piles. And they can tell us which Chapter One approaches are overused and cliché, as well as which writing techniques just plain don’t work when you’re writing a book.

Below, find a smattering of feedback from experienced literary agents on what they hate to see in the first pages of a writer’s submission. Consider it a guide on how to start a novel. Avoid these problems and tighten your submission!

False beginnings

“I don’t like it when the main character dies at the end of Chapter One. Why did I just spend all this time with this character? I feel cheated.”
Cricket Freeman, The August Agency

“I dislike opening scenes that you think are real, then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

In science fiction

“A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape.”
Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

worstwaystobegin

Prologues

“I’m not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page one rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it.”
Michelle Andelman, Regal Literary

“Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.”
Andrea Brown, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

“Prologues are usually a lazy way to give back-story chunks to the reader and can be handled with more finesse throughout the story. Damn the prologue, full speed ahead!”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

damntheprologue

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!

Exposition and description

“Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with an opening chapter is when an author features too much exposition – when they go beyond what is necessary for simply ‘setting the scene.’ I want to feel as if I’m in the hands of a master storyteller, and starting a story with long, flowery, overly-descriptive sentences (kind of like this one) makes the writer seem amateurish and the story contrived. Of course, an equally jarring beginning can be nearly as off-putting, and I hesitate to read on if I’m feeling disoriented by the fifth page. I enjoy when writers can find a good balance between exposition and mystery. Too much accounting always ruins the mystery of a novel, and the unknown is what propels us to read further.”
Peter Miller, PMA Literary and Film Management

“The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.”
Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

“I dislike endless ‘laundry list’ character descriptions. For example: ‘She had eyes the color of a summer sky and long blonde hair that fell in ringlets past her shoulders. Her petite nose was the perfect size for her heart-shaped face. Her azure dress — with the empire waist and long, tight sleeves — sported tiny pearl buttons down the bodice. Ivory lace peeked out of the hem in front, blah, blah.’ Who cares! Work it into the story.”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

Starting too slowly

“Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking.”
Dan Lazar, Writers House

“I don’t really like ‘first day of school’ beginnings, ‘from the beginning of time,’ or ‘once upon a time.’ Specifically, I dislike a Chapter One in which nothing happens.”
Jessica Regel, Foundry Literary + Media

In crime fiction

“Someone squinting into the sunlight with a hangover in a crime novel. Good grief — been done a million times.”
Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

In fantasy

“Cliché openings in fantasy can include an opening scene set in a battle (and my peeve is that I don’t know any of the characters yet so why should I care about this battle) or with a pastoral scene where the protagonist is gathering herbs (I didn’t realize how common this is).”
Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary

Quick note from Chuck: if you’re looking for a writing conference, perhaps one of these below is in your neck of the woods. I’ll be presenting at the following events in 2018:

Voice

“I know this may sound obvious, but too much ‘telling’ vs. ‘showing’ in the first chapter is a definite warning sign for me. The first chapter should present a compelling scene, not a road map for the rest of the book. The goal is to make the reader curious about your characters, fill their heads with questions that must be answered, not fill them in on exactly where, when, who and how.”
Emily Sylvan Kim, Prospect Agency

“I hate reading purple prose – describing something so beautifully that has nothing to do with the actual story.”
Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary

“A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue.”
Daniel Lazar, Writers House

“I don’t like an opening line that’s ‘My name is…,’ introducing the narrator to the reader so blatantly. There are far better ways in Chapter One to establish an instant connection between narrator and reader.”
Michelle Andelman, Regal Literary

“Sometimes a reasonably good writer will create an interesting character and describe him in a compelling way, but then he’ll turn out to be some unimportant bit player.”
Ellen Pepus, Signature Literary Agency

In romance

“In romance, I can’t stand this scenario: A woman is awakened to find a strange man in her bedroom — and then automatically finds him attractive. I’m sorry, but if I awoke to a strange man in my bedroom, I’d be reaching for a weapon — not admiring the view.”
Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary Agency

In a Christian novel

“A rape scene in a Christian novel in the first chapter.”
Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

Characters and backstory

“I don’t like descriptions of the characters where writers make them too perfect. Heroines (and heroes) who are described physically as being virtually unflawed come across as unrelatable and boring. No ‘flowing, wind-swept golden locks’; no ‘eyes as blue as the sky’; no ‘willowy, perfect figures.’ ”
Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency

“Many writers express the character’s backstory before they get to the plot. Good writers will go back and cut that stuff out and get right to the plot. The character’s backstory stays with them — it’s in their DNA.”
Adam Chromy, Movable Type Management

“I’m turned off when a writer feels the need to fill in all the backstory before starting the story; a story that opens on the protagonist’s mental reflection of their situation is a red flag.”
Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management

“One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary

Other TWL Guest Posts by Chuck Sambuchino:

  1. What Does a Literary Agent Want to See When They Google You?

  2. Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference

  3. Querying Literary Agents: Your Top 9 Questions Answered
Filed Under: Craft
James Chartrand

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273 comments

  • Braye. says:

    Wow !!! So much don’ts that can fill a bucket. I wonder if established authors don’t make these mistakes.
    I like the tips, in fact I I wrote a book that began with the author waking up from sleep. I have edited that part.

    I think also apart from saying what should be avoided, we need to know what should be included.

  • lulu says:

    Thank you so much for this article.

  • Bob says:

    I’m trying my first novel…..I thought I knew what I wanted to say but every time I sit down to write my first chapter it just keeps changing! Either I get new ideas or my storyline changes….I am very frustrated. I have 17 dozen new first chapters! I got myself so confused I stopped writing. Help!

    • Michael Merillat says:

      Hi Bob,

      I understand what you mean about ideas continuously popping up. It sounds like, before you start your opening chapter, that you need to have a firm grasp of your plot (make it simple). If you are always coming up with new ideas or beginnings, perhaps you need to step back and figure out the story you wish to tell. Have you tried outlining? It can help organize your thoughts. It ends up being like a map for your novel. Or maybe you could focus on your characters. Try free writing with your characters. Put them in situations not relevant to your book and see what they do. Trust me, Bob, you are not the first writer, or the last, who has bumped into this problem. Good luck.

      • Aleta Dye says:

        Michael, thank you for your reply to Bob. I’ve tried mind-mapping with my WIP (a re-write of my first novel). I’ve tried outlining, but no matter what I did, it just sounded flat when I got started. Putting my characters in situtations not relevant to the book just might be the answer. I’m definitely going to give it a try. Thanks again.

  • Mike Paul Sanders says:

    Reading some of these comments by “literary agents” makes me wonder what exactly have they published. Prologues, when written well, can be extremely useful in grabbing the reader’s attention. But then who follows the rules? Look at pros Hubert Selby, Jr and Cormac McCarthy. Both have written incredible stories yet their books are a mess to try and decipher. Bother neither feel the need to add quotation marks around their characters’ lines of dialogue which gets very confusing when there’s more than one person talking. And both are masters of the compound sentences. In one passage of Requiem For A Dream, Selby goes on for nearly four pages without a single pause. It’s just “and, and, and, and, and…” My question is would these agents let a new writer get by with these same literary mistakes?

    • Nic Nelson says:

      Mike, scroll up and see my conversation with Joe. Remember the context of this article: agents and acquisition editors have to sift through something called a “slush pile” of mostly-poor-quality submissions. Agents especially get tons of submissions, and must get through them all somehow (and quickly or they won’t have time to do anything else). So, (1) they begin to see patterns in poor-quality stuff, and (2) they begin to make “rejection” choices quickly based on those “red-flag” patterns.

      The rest of us are not agents so we don’t know what patterns of badness they are seeing these days. And we would very much like to know what those patterns are so that we don’t accidentally send up any red flags when an agent reads OUR stuff.

      So this is actually not an article about Craft or Style, per se– it’s an article about submission strategy. If it were about Style I’d jump on your band wagon! I love well-crafted cumulative syntax; I love pointing out to “short-sentence nazis” all the beautiful LONG sentences in, for instance, Hemingway’s best work.

      But that’s also the point: consider how jaded some agents must become, reading bad writing 10 to 20 hours a week, sometimes more on a work-binge… for years. Imagine how delighted they will be when they realize they are suddenly six pages into a new manuscript (when they planned to stop at the third page) and are loving the way the author uses long complex sentences, mixing them with short punchy ones, and judiciously dusting them with unexpected yet perfectly-fitted adjectives? If that happens, OF COURSE they won’t right-click-delete that one. They call Hubert Selby back and say “I think I can find a publisher for you.”

      So if you LOVE your prologue and KNOW it is masterfully crafted, fascinating, necessary to the structure of the story, well, fire away! But also know that you are taking a risk by prominently labeling it “PROLOGUE” and failing to give some justification for it in your cover letter (not “it’s so well-written!”– tell why it is important to the tone or structure of the story). And even then you are taking a risk: your cover letter had better be convincing, and every bit of your submission “well-written,” or it’s done.

      Look again at how “Leapfrog Press” sums it up:
      Our editors concur 100%. We see every one of these things, often. Many of these types of openings can be, and have been, done well (with the likely exception of the excessive adjectivia). But they are nearly impossible to do well by any but the most accomplished, experienced writer. If you’re Dickens, you can do pretty much anything you want. If you’re not, follow this advice!

      • Joe says:

        Nic, you know I understand what you are saying. I just wish it wasn’t so. I wish agents/editors/etc. would understand that they may never find the next Dickens if they trash a piece of work as soon as they see the word “prologue.” Many of the other warning signs I agree with.

        • nikki says:

          I have never completed a book because of having children, but when I was being coached by my high school writing teacher she always told me the one way to pick a good prologue is to complete the book first, this goes for the title also. So I agree sometime prologues work when people find the riveting part of the novel to capture the readers attention. I also agree that editors should not throw manuscripts away just for reading the word prologue. I believe it is the prologue/ first few pages, that capture the readers hearts, attention, etc. Not just a single word.

          • Jan says:

            Totally agree with that, Nikki. Your high school writing teacher was spot-on.

            The opening chapter (whatever you call it) is where you give the book a strong push in the precise direction you want the readers to go. You won’t know exactly what that direction will be until you’ve finished writing your book.

            You do have to start somewhere, obviously, but there is no bigger waste of time than perfecting, re-writing, and agonizing over your starting chapter before you’ve written the rest of the book. Your beginning will inevitably need something else, and you’ll work that out during the editing process. For your first draft, just write your opener and move on.

        • Jan says:

          The funny thing is, now that “Thou Shalt Not Write Prologues Because Agents Won’t Wade Through Them” has become a common commandment for wannabe new authors, these authors will be hastily changing their Prologues to Chapter One when they make submissions.

          This won’t make them better writers. Nor will it eliminate the infodump.

          So what’s next? “Agents Don’t Like Chapter Ones, so Start With Chapter Two and You’re In Like Flynn?”

  • Journey Niemela says:

    I do not agree on some things. I am writing a book, and it began with a dream, and I got 110% by my big brother, who is fifteen, and I am only ten. My beginning, the main charecter is being told a prophecy in the middle of math class while she is sleeping. Her name is Skylar Flame. I really like books with the main person has a strange name. She has white hair, like Elsa in Frozen, and creepy blue eys, and a kind family, who everyone loves, but her. She sticks out in a crowd. In case you are intrested in my book, her is the auther, “Journey Niemela”. And yes, this is my real name. My book is going to be called, “Belonged to the sky.” Hope you people enjoy it.

    • Hi Journey, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Nic Nelson, above, has done a great job of explaining why these suggestions are good advice for authors:

      “So if you LOVE your prologue and KNOW it is masterfully crafted, fascinating, necessary to the structure of the story, well, fire away! But also know that you are taking a risk by prominently labeling it “PROLOGUE” and failing to give some justification for it in your cover letter (not “it’s so well-written!”– tell why it is important to the tone or structure of the story).”

  • JA says:

    I love this advice. I recently clipped two chapters (one of which was a prologue) from the beginning of my story for the reasons stated above. I don’t think I wasted time writing them because they were part of the process of figuring out my story, but for an agent/ reader, they aren’t necessary. Also, I think their removal lends the main characters a greater aura of mystery, which I like.

    I write YA, and one of my story-opening pet peeves in that genre is when the first chapter or two include a large pile of the main character’s reflections on how ordinary/ unattractive/ unspecial they are. It’s been done to death. I get that real teenagers have self-esteem issues, but in my experience they are RARELY as over-the-top in real life as they are in YA books. Though I’m now in my 20s, I also felt this way about YA protags when I was a teenager.

    Thanks for this article!

  • Very good post. From a person who has had the opportunity to read a random assortment of submissions to publishers, this is excellent advice.

  • Ade stone says:

    I had intended to use the back story of the main character at the beginning of a book I’m working on…I thought giving the reader a feel of what the protagonist had gone through would keep the reader interested and want to continue reading to find out how the protagonist ended up. I didn’t realize that was a turn off for a lot of people. I figured I would work the protagonist’s history into the plot line one way or the other. But what is blocking me now is that I have no idea what to use in the first chapter that would keep the reader interested and want to go on with the book. Any suggestions?

    • Nic Nelson says:

      Ade: Yes! Try starting off with your inciting event.

      When you hear folks say “Jump right into the action” they usually don’t mean “Pick an action scene at random and start the story there.” (although that’s a good writing exercise! Then everything that comes BEFORE that moment on your chronological timeline you can visit later as flashback, tantalus, or exposition, and everything that comes AFTER that moment unfolds normally– punctuated by any necessary flashbacks, etc.)

      But unless you love flashbacks and do them well, it makes more sense to “jump right into the action” with the inciting event itself: the scene that sets the protagonist irrevocably along the path of the story.

      If you have a complicated story with a large cast, different “main characters” may have different inciting events: begin with the inciting event for whoever will be your main POV character.

      This is just a suggestion of course– as so many comments here emphasize, there’s plenty of room for creativity and breaking of rules, as long as you realize what you’re doing so you can concentrate on doing it well.

    • Connie says:

      Ade:

      I had a very vivid dream and started writing it down because it was so vivid. I let the story write itself. If I tried to force it in a particular direction because *I* wanted it to go there, it didn’t “work”. So I wrote that particular scene and put it to one side. Invariably it found its own place, where it fitted into the story perfectly (for me!).

      Then I needed to tell how the characters got to where they were. It was only intended to be a few pages, but it grew and grew until it became a story in itself and became volume one.

      The dream became volume two. The story reached a climax in what became volume three. My dream became a saga, that’s taken the two main characters from their last years at school, through their late teens and twenties to their thirties; through triumphs and disasters, love and loss. The reader isn’t told everything about any single character in one go, but as the character develops.

      Can I pick up any one of the volumes and read them again? Yes, I can.

      Was it ever published? No, it wasn’t. I got fed up with all the rejections.

      Its future? I’m going to see about polishing it a bit/lot, then publish it as an ebook. If it sells, it sells. If doesn’t, sobeit, I’ll have tried. I won’t reach the end of my life thinking “I wish I had”.

  • Kimberley says:

    Oh I needed this post! So far I reckon I’m doing OK with my beginning (question is, how am I faring with the rest of the novel?!?!?!?!) I do have a prologue but it’s more of a first chapter (different point of view from the rest of the book, though). May think about reworking it! Kim

  • claudiacv says:

    I wish there were more post on what readers want/like instead of what agents like or don´t like. Maybe that would help bridge the gap between what gets published and what is really being read/bought.

    • Hi Claudia,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You might want to check out this post on in-progress publishing — it’s an interesting way to see what your audience wants to read, and refine your work in response to that: http://thewritelife.com/publish-your-book-before-its-finished/

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

      • claudiacv says:

        Two years later…
        Just stumbled upon your answer to my question. Thanks for answering! Sorry for not realizing it sooner.

    • lawrence says:

      My dear these guys must be going far. How can an agent’s will or like represent the general view. Readers are those who are in the right position to testify which story is interesting. Just see how they are contradicting each other. I guess a writing competition should be organized for them to see what they will really put out

  • lawrence says:

    All your teachings on you like and don’t Like on characters, opening line, paragraph and all you listed you don’t like are your personal problem of taste. That’s why when an author or a writer who worked all night speaking with his or her characters, writes his main character is sleeping, an editor or agent will prefer to say the character slept. Pick a novel of 19 centuries and compare it with the dance de mot authors publish today and tell me in which of the two you see the originality of an authors’ minds speaking. Again pick two different novels from two different authors published in 2013 and tell me how many related sentences you pick in them, how many same vocabularies are in them. If the World has 10 authors, they should be able to give out to the World 10 different ideas and not the same as you are teaching authors today.
    By the way, who is in the better position to say if a story is interesting or not; readers, agents, editors or the co-authors which you are?
    This is a general problem in many areas of life. Talk of foot ball, the African born and Portuguese international who died recently made the same comments in one of his interviews: that thee is no more pure foot ball in the World today if not the scramble for money. Talk of music, how many beatings do we have in the World today and what are this musicians saying? An Elderly Nigerien musician of late memory once said: Music today is a matter of buy your computer and chose the sound system you like. Unlike in the period when musicians have to search out for the required sound and rhythm of a particular music themselves.
    The the person who said he don’t like a novel where the main character died at the end of the first page. But as an author, I might chose to begin with the end and therefore kill my main character in page one. But coming to page two, I will show you the character who died in page page one was actually sent to go and buy a coffin. You mean you won’t be anxious to read on to see what happened? So leave authors to express their feelings and not the feelings of agents. I was bored seeing all you wrote there. They are simple true lies like the chapters of the bible that contradict each other. You advise authors to copy each other or write what you want or what themselves want? You teachings are for author who are still looking for a name in the writing World. An author who wishes to have a style cannot and will never follow your advise because the author will end up editing your will instead of writing what is happening within his mind.
    As for me, I have my own style. The day I found myself a writer was the day I adopted a style. Therefore, I always begin with the end in mind. The first chapter of my story is always the last chapter of the story.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lawrence. You’re right, the comments from the agents are their opinions. Of course, writers are free to disregard them and write what works for them — to each their own! As you mention, readers are also good judges, and many self-published authors can attest to that. Best of luck with your story!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  • Cindy Sprigg says:

    I found this article very interesting except the comments on Prologues. Generally, I don’t like them either, but that said, there are instance where they become an essential part of the story. For instance as a setup point or introduction to set the tone and setting of the story. I have written many genre ; Science-fiction, horror, mystery, fantasy, thrillers and even children’s stories and in only one instance have I found a story that just called out for a prologue. The story I am working on now is a Medieval Romance. I felt it need one, to not only save many pages of explanation, but to introduce the narrator and set the tone of language for the reader. The following, I felt,is an appropriate prologue to do just that…..

    Gone are the lush forests of my youth. The trees now stand bare of leaves, as if locked within winter’s spell and the clear running streams that once meandered their way through the kingdom have long since dried up. I myself spent many a lazy day frittering away the hot summer hours, lost in dreams at the edge of one of these streams, while a worm at the end of my line teased a trout into biting.
    Through the eyes of an old and dying man, I look out over fields once ablaze with a rainbow of colours of the many flowers and wild grasses, now brown and overgrown with scrub brush and brambles. A land where wildlife once abounded and unicorns could frequently be seen, frolicking carelessly on a hillside, grazing at forest’s edge or drinking from the nearby stream.
    A land where the sound of children’s laughter was mixed with the cheerful sounds of the songbirds above was now a land where only the cries brought about by hollow bellies permeated through the stone fortress and its outbuildings.
    As the morning sun burns the mist off the hill tops surrounding the castle walls, I hear the sound of hooves on the cobblestones of the courtyard below. It was the King and his men, readying themselves for the morning hunt. I know that they will return empty handed, as they had every morning for many years now, ever since the unicorns left.
    And so, without further ado, myself being one of the older members of the castle’s inhabitants, I have taken it upon myself to record the story, before it is forgotten, of how a once thriving kingdom, one of the richest in the land, now lies in distress.

    • Hello I’m an agent but for commercial photographers and this article is the equivalent of what I call ‘asparagus on a yellow background’ – the images that creators believe are original but really aren’t. In fact I recently judged a major international prize and it was amazing how many surprising cliches popped up – bearded men for example. So I understand the viewpoint of those agents above and smile at those writers who are still trying to kick against the advice like angry children. My concern as a novice writer is that I may be guilty of purple prose. I love writing lyrically and am careful to feel the rhythm of my prose as flowing or punchy, not so different from Cindy’s above, but is that adjective heavy style butt-clenchingly cringe-worthy amateurism? If so I had better stop now!

      • Rebecca, I love the analogy of “asparagus on a yellow background” — too funny! It is interesting how often we think we’re creating something original, only to find it’s nothing but.

        It’s hard to say whether your lyrical writing is “purple prose” or not — have you tried running it by a friend or two? Their reactions might help you figure it out before you try showing it to an agent or editor. Let us know how it goes!

        Heather
        TWL Assistant Editor

    • Perse says:

      Wow, good prologue! Now I want to know what went wrong in the kingdom! A counterexample for all those prologue-protesters out there!

    • Line Editor From Hell says:

      I’m not against opening chapter prologues if done right. No info dumps. No tedious 3rd person world-building backstory. No unnecessary filler. No wasted words. No purple prose. Although Cindy Sprigg’s (posted 06-13-14) prologue example has the best intentions and the right idea, this is why it gets the rejection slip:

      The book killed itself in the second sentence. The first sentence was great, by the way. The wording was tight, the voice spectacular, the imagery vivid. It was perfect. It drew me in. The rest of the prologue made me cringe.

      Sentence two: “the trees now stand bare…” >ughCringeShudder< If you want to write a sentence wrong, this is exactly how to do it. Try, "The clear running streams meandering through the kingdom dried up long ago." Note the lack of double references to past events. ("that once" and "have long since") I only need to be told once in a sentence that something occurred in the past, not twice.

      Sentence three: "I myself…" Did I really just read that? Yep, I sure did. See above about double referencing.

      We're done here… congratulations on receiving a rejection slip after the first thirty-five words.

      It's not Cindy's use of a prologue in chapter one that got her book rejected. It's the writing that got Cindy rejected.

      • Jim Peterson says:

        I’m sorry, but I couldn’t disagree with you more. As an avid reader (and purchaser) of Fantasy Fiction, I think the second sentence loses all of its strength when you remove “now stands” and the third’s “I myself”.

        I sincerely mean no offense, but if this seems overkill and cliché to you as an Agent, then you need to get out of the business because you’ve lost touch with your readers. You’ve read the same thing too many times to be objective. It’s overdone because that’s what we, the readers, want. If you would kill a book based on a couple sentences and prejudices about prologues, you’re doing the entire industry a disservice.

        This is the reason self published books do so well.

    • Line Editor From Hell says:

      For some reason, the post got garbled during the submission. This is how it was originally written:

      Sentence two: “the trees now stand bare…” ugh. I know it’s “now” I don’t need to be told it’s “now.” You established the “now” connection in the first sentence. “Now” is unnecessary. Try reading the sentence without the word “now.” It still makes sense. Also, the word “stand” is an unnecessary verb. I know trees “stand,” I don’t need to be told this. What I need to know is “The trees ARE bare of leaves…”
      Sentence two: the sentence has 31 words, it’s too long. I’m not a big fan of run on sentences connected by “and” “then” or “and then.” Try putting a period before “and”. Capitalize the word after “and”. “spell” ends the first sentence. “The” begins the second. Now read it. Much, much easier on the brain.
      “…the clear running streams that once meandered their way through the kingdom have long since dried up.” Cringe. Shudder. If you want to write a sentence wrong, this is exactly how to do it. Try, “The clear running streams meandering through the kingdom dried up long ago.” Note the lack of double references to past events. (“that once” and “have long since”) I only need to be told once in a sentence that something occurred in the past, not twice.
      Sentence three: “I myself…” Did I really just read that? Yep, I sure did. See above about double referencing.
      We’re done here… congratulations on receiving a rejection slip after the first thirty-five words.
      It’s not Cindy’s use of a prologue in chapter one that got her book rejected. It’s the writing that got Cindy rejected.

      • Jim Peterson says:

        Me again, still respectfully disagreeing.

        Quote:”Try reading the sentence without the word “now.” It still makes sense. Also, the word “stand” is an unnecessary verb. I know trees “stand,” I don’t need to be told this. What I need to know is “The trees ARE bare of leaves…” /Quote

        Yes it makes sense, but you’ve removed all the pain and made it boring.

        “Now” imbues emphasis on the change from the past.

        “stand” is also relevant, because trees without leaves are often dead on the ground. You need to know more than just “trees ARE bare”. You need the comparison with the past to evoke loss.

        “I myself” gives the narrator ownership of having experienced a difference in the past.

        Taking out those few words removes the passion, loss, and pain from the opening paragraph.

        P.s. Just realized I’m beating a year dead horse. Sorry.

        • Jim Peterson says:

          Ok. Last comment-

          Quote”Try, “The clear running streams meandering through the kingdom dried up long ago.” Note the lack of double references to past events. (“that once” and “have long since”) I only need to be told once in a sentence that something occurred in the past, not twice.”/Quote

          Again, I feel that “that once” and “have long since” are the parts of the sentence that instill a sense of loss. Without those components, you’re just describing a physical scene. WITH those words, the tone takes a melancholy vibe.

          I’m open to rebuttal, JFTR…

  • Patti says:

    Thank you for the writing advice! I’m one of the ones who hope to be published someday, and I will read any advice given to me by those who traveled these roads before me. I read something a long time ago about a writer who wrote a book and the editor told her to cut out the first 3 chapters…because that was where her book really began. When I write, I try to hook you with my first few sentences and then keep you hooked through the first chapter. And hopefully keep you hooked throughout the whole book!

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