How NOT to start a story
The fantastic J A Konrath has just been reading and judging TWO THOUSAND short stories and has seen the same mistakes over and over again.
Here are his pet hates:
‘DO NOT START A STORY WITH WEATHER
Yes, you can work weather into the scene. But I don’t care that it was sixty-five degrees on a spring morning, and if you make that your first sentence you’re going to remain unpublished.
DO NOT START A STORY WITH CHARACTER DESCRIPTION
Your protag may be named Bob McTestes, and he was born in Sunndydale, Ohio in 1967, but you need to work that into the body of the story and not make it the first sentence. Better yet, don’t work it in anywhere.
DO NOT START A STORY BY ADDRESSING THE READER
“You’ll never believe what happened on July 2, 1943.” You’re right. I won’t believe it, because I just stopped reading.
DO NOT START A STORY WITH PREMONITION
“Phil Assmaster didn’t know he was going to die that day.” But Joe Konrath knows you’re not going to win this contest.
DO NOT START A STORY WITH THE PROTAG WAKING UP
Frankly, it shocked me how many stories began like this. More so than any other way I’m warning against. Opening your eyes because you had a bad dream or heard a strange noise is a quick way to put the reader to sleep.
DO NOT START A STORY WITH CLICHES
Once upon a time. A long time ago. This is a true story. Ugh. Next time, save me the trouble and put the story in your own recycle bin.
DO NOT START A STORY WITH SETTING DESCRIPTION
“Moronville, Ohio was a town of 8371 people originally founded in 1872 by Quakers.” Hopefully, one of those Quakers has a gun and will shoot me.
DO NOT START A STORY WITH TELLING
“Josh felt terrible.” Really? How am I supposed to picture that? Maybe I picture Josh’s stomach aching, his head throbbing, and the hole where his heart is supposed to be. If I’m picturing that, perhaps you should have as well and written it that way.
DO NOT START A STORY WITH DESCRIPTION
I don’t care if you’re describing a person, place, thing, era, or whatever. I want to read about conflict, not helper words.
DO NOT USE HELPER WORDS
Force yourself to pare away every adverb, and half your adjectives. Also kill any speaker attribution other than “said” and “asked.”
DO NOT START A STORY WITH A PROLOGUE
Your short story doesn’t need a prologue. Your novel probably doesn’t either.
DO NOT USE EXCLAMATION POINTS!
Especially a bunch of them!!!!!!!
DO NOT USE THE SAME FARUQING WORD TWICE IN THE SAME FARUQING PARAGRAPH
Get the faruquing point?
GRAMMER AND SPELING SHOULD BE PREFECT
If you don’t care, why should I? Ditto annoying dialect spelling. Y’all get a-ight wit dat sheet, ‘kay?
DO NOT MAKE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER AN ANIMAL
Help! The first Paragraph of my WIP starts like this:
‘Once upon a time, Amy thought as she flicked through the pages of the latest bridal magazine, making a wedding cake was a simple affair. You made three fruit cakes, and a bucket of royal icing. Job done. ‘
I have committed the ‘Once upon a time’ crime. The shame, the shame. But does it work? LOL