The 10 Worst Story Openings



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*disclaimer* I did not come up with all this all by my lonesome, it kind of evolved from things I read by other people when researching how I should start something I was writing, and I noticed a lot of people were saying pretty much the same things. I know I’m cynical and I know there are bountiful exceptions to these “rules.”
1. Waking up.
BEEEP BEEP RIIIING RIIING, the alarm clock jerks 14 year old Jessica Parker out of a sound sleep. She groans and fumbles to shut it off. Her mom calls from the next room, ‘Hurry up Jessie you’re going to be late!’ Jessie wills herself to get up, and get ready for school. She looks into the mirror at her frizzy red hair, which always turns into a rat’s nest after sleeping. As she begins to brush out her tangled locks, her annoying little brother comes running into the room making noises and holding Tonka trucks above his head, yelling ‘Jessie, Jessie! Look at my trucks!’ Ugh, thinks Jessie, why me?”
Yeah. You get the picture. That actually hurt a little bit to write. Don’t use the alarm clock, just don’t—unless you want your story to sound like it was written by whoever made the opening to Rebecca Black’s “Friday” music video. It won’t grab anyone’s attention. Did it work in Groundhog Day? You bet. Will it work in your story? Probably not, unless it’s extremely original, like the alarm is set to specific song or sound (like a Barney song waking up a 40 year old man, or a person’s voice saying a specific sentence) that is somehow relevant to the character or story. I don’t know, even that is risky. This type of thing is just so overused, I’ve seen it a ridiculous amount of times. In my  own naivety I’ve used it a ridiculous amount of times, (though I must say, I usually do it in a creative manner). Is a waking up scene possible to write in an engaging attention-grabbing way? Absolutely. I’ll probably even do it again some time. Just be really careful with this one… it’s so easy to be cliché! An article entitled “11 Ways Not To Start Your Novel” from darleyandersonblog.com lists specific clichés you should avoid:
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
Anyone ‘sitting bolt upright in bed’, ‘burying their head deeper into the pillow’ or the sheets being ‘drenched with sweat’
Onomatopoeia. Alarm clocks, ringtones, knockings on doors – leave them out
Any of these phrases: ‘Breakfast is ready’, ‘you’re going to be late for [x]’, ‘sleepy head’, ‘wakey wakey’, ‘rise and shine’, ‘up and at them’, ‘just five more minutes’ and any variations thereupon
The smell of breakfast rousing your protagonist from their slumber/bed
Your protagonist getting out of bed to look at themselves in the mirror (assuming they look the way they would on any other day and haven’t, say, aged several years from the last morning they remember)
Your protagonist being even slightly hung-over
Your protagonist waking up on the first day of anything in particular
2. Weather/landscape description.
These used to bore me to death when I was younger. I’d crack open a book, see a description of rolling hills with mountains in the distance and purple mist, and slide the book back on the shelf. Essentially, you should avoid anything like this:
“The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.”
3. Clichés like “once upon a time in a land far away.”
This is an obvious one, but apparently people still do it. Heck, *I* used to do it when I was way younger. Unless you KNOW it’s a cliché and you are doing it to be witty or funny, skip it!
4. Description of the town/kingdom/planet/etc.
World-building can be fun, but in general 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. Don’t slam a Wikipedia page about your setting at the reader, it’s your first page for heaven’s sake!
5. 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.
“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
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.
6. Prologue.
Maybe I’m the only one, but I always used to just skip prologues and then read them after I was finished with the book. Prologues are just another cheap way of stuffing a bunch of back-story in. However, I know a lot of successful famous books have used prologues, so they’re not always unacceptable, but 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.
7. Addressing the reader directly.
Something I’ve noticed a lot of people say is that you should not start off by addressing your reader, like “Welcome to my story. If you’re reading this, you might be wondering…blah blah blah…”. I would agree that most of the time this is a bad idea, for one, because it puts up a barrier of self awareness that keeps the reading from being drawn into the story. However, I think there is definitely some potential to have some fun with this kind of opening if it’s done in a creative way.
8. Telling the reader your work of fiction is a true story.
Do not tell us it’s a true story, we already know it’s not. Acting like it’s a true story is fine, but don’t outright tell us, like “This really happened many years ago” or “this is the true story of how I became…” Trust me, telling us your fictional story is true is only going to remind us that it’s not. Your readers probably aren’t five year olds. In Rick Riordan’s series, The Kane Chronicles, he acts like the story is a factual account of events that really happened, even saying it’s a transcript of a digital recording. And it kind of works for that story, but you’ll notice he never outright claims it to be true—this makes it more believable.
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” or “‘I shall kill you all!’ cried the ghastly bat-like creature as it rose above my school’s football field.” 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.
Note that this is not bashing the sci-fi, fantasy, or horror genre. I’m all for creepy stalkers, magical water dragons, and starship battles—but aliens that turn into flying pigs with glittery blood shooting out of their eyes is not creative, it’s stupid. Guess what? Just because your story has some supernatural happenings doesn’t mean you don’t have to be realistic. As a reader, I truly want to believe that what is happing is real, but if it starts off as too crazy without easing into the whole supernatural fantasy world thing, I will have a hard time doing that.
Although, to be honest, I’m grateful when people do open this way, it allows me to instantly know I shouldn’t waste time reading it. If your book actually is about that crazy uncreative stuff in you mentioned, you’ve probably got more problems than a bad opening line.
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 with no 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.
Something I’m fond of quoting when it comes to art is—and writing is certainly an art—once you know the rules you can break them. What this means is, if you already know the “right” way of doing something and know you could do it well if you wanted to, but you still want to deviate from the standard, go ahead. But you’ve got to be honest with yourself: is your use of a cliché so much better than anyone else’s that it hardly counts as a cliché anymore?
Rules are made to be broken; it is in the nature of writing. Do what you want, do what you like the best, and chances are other people will like it too. Or maybe you don’t even care if anyone else likes it! Just don’t get stuck with a lousy opening just because you were lazy or didn’t know you were sabotaging yourself.

 

Think about it, what would get you to keep reading? Do that. Not sure what would keep you reading? Try this: go to your bookshelf, and look at the first one or two sentences of your favorite books. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How could you do something similar with your story?

Wanna learn how to hook a reader and see examples of GOOD opening lines? Click here!

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82 thoughts on “The 10 Worst Story Openings

  1. Ellafaith Kataria says:

    As many readers have commented, Pinterest led me here and I'm glad!

    I'm an aspiring writer at the age of 15, and boy do have I almost and did really omit many of the worst openings! But I could argue about #2 regarding lengthy and descriptive openings. I love those kind of openings because as a reader, I can imagine myself on the setting and spectate or even join in the story as one of the characters. But hey, descriptive openings may be beautiful, but it is boring too if the description of the setting doesn't involve the characters much.

    Also, prologues are different from story introduction , right? Cause if it is then that mistake blinded me for two years xD

    Aaaaannnddd I just want to say that this article helped a lot for both comedic and learning value. I'd use them so I could break– no, bend rules for myself! ~ – insert evil laughter-

    This article has really been helpful, so thanks!

    Like

  2. Kelly Lox says:

    Hi, I found this article through Pinterest and I find it very help. I think it might just have helped me come up with an opening for my book. I just have one thing to say, I don't think prologues are as bad as you've made them seem. I see prologues as a way to give readers information before they actually start the story. For example, “The Raven Boys” by Maggie Stiefvater has a prologue that fits for the story. That's the only problem I had. Other than that, I think this is a great help for writers.

    Like

  3. livee says:

    Cringing slightly because my NaNoWriMo novel starts with a dream, unsure how to proceed because the book is centered around dreaming.

    I have watched my friend do the “write-one-page-with-the-character-waking-up-and-looking-in-the-mirror” and the the”write-one-page-and-get-bored” thing.Is there actually an appropriate time to tell the readers what the character looks like if it's only one thing at a time, spread through out the story? like, “she ruffled MC's brown hair” and stuff like that in the fifth chapter? I don't understand how writers do that so seamlessly!

    Like

  4. Jeannie Marie Wraight says:

    I was debating whether or not to write a prologue as I never read them. I posed the question to about 80 people I know- 'who reads prologues'. I was surprised to find an overwhelming favorable response. Lesson learned: not everyone does as we do. Does that mean every writer should use them? No, but it does mean it's a matter of preference so don't discount them because you don't like them. Be careful in your writing to not make your opinion appear as fact. You're doing a great injustice to your readers by doing so. Reading one or two of your blogs, from the tone, I thought you were a very experienced writer with several published books. I was surprised to see that it appears you've never been published and at your age, even if you started writing at 8, how much experience could you actually have. Your articles are good, just save the lofty tone for 20 years from now when you may have actually earned it.

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  5. Laura M says:

    That's great! I appreciate your comment ^_^
    Prologues often do differ from story introduction. And introduction could be more like a Foreward.
    Glad you found it helpful and amusing! 😀

    Like

  6. Laura M says:

    @Jeannie Thanks for your comment! Firstly, I don't claim to be some sort of experienced expert so I don't know why you would be surprised to find out that I am not. These are just my opinions. Some agree, some don't, and that's okay. I'm glad you think some of my articles are good, and I actually have reduced the “lofty tone” since writing this article. I was trying to make it somewhat comical/amusing but it's hard to make fun of clichés without sounding pompous. I'm still working on finding a balance.

    Like

  7. Laura M says:

    Centered around dreaming? That sounds interesting! A dream opening is rather cliché but it could be forgiven if that's the focus of the whole book! I think there IS an appropriate time to give a brief character description, perhaps in the first few pages, and then work in more extensive details later. To be honest, I don't know how writers seamlessly work in character descriptions either…but it is probably safe to do if it's brief and not the very first thing on the page.

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  8. Sophie E Tallis says:

    Interesting article, but I have come across these 'golden rules of writing' type posts before. Oh dear, lol, well I guess 'rules' are there to be broken! I personally like prologues if they add something to the story and aren't just there because the author couldn't edit their story without one. But I must say, as a lover of landscapes and nature as well as fantasy, I also like books that start with landscape/scene settings. I've read so many fantasy novels recently that just plunge straight into a battle/action scene without the reader having a chance to work out where they are or worst still, without giving the reader a chance to actually care what happens to the characters. If I don't care about the characters I'm not going to read on, so those books get left on the shelf for me. I must say, my own novel breaks one of these 'rules' and does have a description at the beginning setting the scene and the epic nature of the book. Lol, I guess at the end of the day variety is the key, it's probably a bad thing to have too many books of either type as we all have different reading tastes. 🙂

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  9. Anonymous says:

    thank you!!! this was so helpful & informative. First time writer at the age of 58, and learning so much. I am writing about famous musicians that either myself or someone in my family has seen over the years (since the 60's) at a fake venue. Am I able to use the names of real musicians, as long as I do not say anything horrible about any of them?

    Like

  10. Bethany Dragon says:

    I am one of the many who has found your blog from Pinterest. This is really helpful not to just normal stories, but i had a friend who did these for a fiction story report and she got a really bad grade for such a terrible opening. I felt bad for her. Anyways this is really helpful! Thank you!

    Like

  11. Anonymous says:

    I am a13 year old girl with a dream to be an authour, and I am writing a book called 'The Ghost King' and it's all about Greek mythology. My main character, Drew, tells the story. He's a demigod (a mortal whose one parent is a god or goddess) and I start it by him saying ''My name is Drew Fletcher, son of Hades. Yeah, I said it. I'm the son of the Greek God of the dead and wealth…'' do you think that this was a good way to start? Thanks for the pointers!!!

    Like

  12. Unknown says:

    I love that u r a Christian like me! I have personally asked Jesus to save me, I believe HE died,was Buried and Resurrected from the dead on the third day. Christ calls us all to repentance from our sins,which is change of heart and mind, and to trust in Him as Lord and Savior. I thought ya'll should hear the good news, and what it means to be a Christian.
    Thnks
    Selina Ozuna

    Like

  13. Rachel Maree says:

    This is great! I really dislike cliche novel beginnings, and your blog gives some great pointers. It has given me some ideas to revamp the start of some of my novels to make them more interesting and to hook readers in from the beginning. Thanks!

    Like

  14. Wombatramblings says:

    Great post Laura,
    Would you mind if I were to use this pose as is on my Writers blog? I run the Northeast Tasmania Writers Group Blog and would appreciate your allowing me to use this as is . I would of course link this to your blog ensuring you were fully credited. Bill J.

    Like

  15. ShirleyMcLain says:

    Very good article. I think all of the rules you wrote here are not written in concrete. Reading and writing are so subjective, but you do have to learn the basics or there could really be problems. It also depends on what you intend to do with your writing. If your doing it for yourself, write it as you want. Just my two cents. Great job.

    Like

  16. Phillip T. Stephens says:

    It's easy for beginning writers to bristle at these suggestions, but they're spot on. If you want to say, but I've seen other writers do it, you may want to broaden your reading. Another variation on
    “waking up” is waking up in an empty room with no memory and now the character has to put the plot together. May make an intriguing game, but a story, not so much.

    Like

  17. K Morris says:

    In my story, “Samantha”, I describe Sam as looking like a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights. One reviewer saw this as cliched. I must confess that I don't regret using that particular wording and guess it just goes to prove that what one reader likes others dont. Kevin (newauthoronline.com)

    Like

  18. Unknown says:

    This is great and all, but you have to know that this is your opinion. If someone were to read this, and some of these things are in their story, they could think that no one would ever read them, making them lose confidence. I know many famous books that have many of these cliches in there. While I agree that people should be creative when starting their books, calling it “boring” may hurt a new writer's feelings. Maybe saying “It's alright to write it this way, but to make it more interesting and unique, you could do it this way.” Just a small critique but it's still an interesting article, don't get me wrong.

    Like

  19. Laura M says:

    Yes, you can totally use the names of famous musicians! Authors do it all the time. The only thing you want to avoid is saying something false about the musician and making it seem like it's true. Even in a work of fiction, it can be misleading if it's not clear that it is meant to be a fictional element.

    Like

  20. Anonymous says:

    My story has always begun with the prologue. It isn't very long, but extremely integral to the whole line. I have always loved prologues and epilogues….. and this story is the only o e of tbe series that has the prologue.

    Like

  21. Valquíria Homero says:

    Hello, there!

    I just found out your blog through Pinterest, and it's so nice to see other christian discussing and doing writing! But I must confess, this post was a little painful to read, once the first example on your list it's exactly what I used in the begining of my first novel ever. Well, made me think more about it, and I thank you for that.

    But I was wondering: what about a post listing good ways to begin a novel? I don't know, feels like the natural sequence. And even more instructive than a “how-not-to-do” post. I'm sorry if you already did, maybe I just haven't seen it. After all, you write this first one three years ago rs.

    I'll try to follow your work from now, and I'll pray for your sucess. God knows we need more christian values on books and midia! I also study Social Comunication, you see. And before I say goodbye, I must apologize for any grammar/spell mistakes. I'm brazilian and my English is a little rusty (:

    Like

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