How NOT to start a novel!

Please don’t worry about these when you are writing your first drafts. Your first draft will be messy and ugly and full of cringe-worthy writing.

When writing your first draft just get the words out but when polishing it up look out for these cliches and cut them out. I hope this list is useful for you.

1. Waking up

Nobody wants to hear about your characters morning routine. We don’t want to know what they do in the bathroom, how they make & eat their breakfast, or what they pick out to wear and how they get dressed.

If you start with your character waking up, something epic needs to happen and not their usual boring morning routine.

If they wake up to an alien invasion, I’m pretty they won’t be worrying about what to wear but the reader will be right there with then running down the street screaming in their pyjamas.

2. False starts

So, you throw your reader into a beautiful dream or terrifying nightmare. The reader has no idea this isn’t real. Then, they wake up and the reader feels cheated.

You may have drawn them in but only to disappoint them. This is only acceptable if it has a purpose, like if Freddy Kruger is the antagonist.

Don’t trick your reader into spending time reading your story only to reveal they wasted their time. They won’t thank you for it and might even quit reading more.

3. Characters

At the start of the book you want readers to connect with the MC quickly. If they’re confused who the MC is, that isn’t going to happen.

Make sure it’s clear who the main character is. This is the person that will take the reader through the story. Don’t hide the MC as a surprise later.

While on the topic of characters, please don’t give them multiple names – it’s confusing. Don’t have you character Elizabeth also called Liz, Lizzie, Beth, Eliza, Babe, Buttercup, etc. I did read a story on Wattpad where someone did this and I lost count of the MC’s various names by the end of chapter 1.

Don’t waste the readers time aquainting them in depth with a character that doesn’t contribute to the overall story. If they are not important, don’t include it.

You can introduce characters during the story but don’t dump them all in chapter one. Don’t overwhelm your reader with a massive cast so there head is spinning with all the names.

4. Point of view

Be consistent. Readers will get comfortable reading in a certain POV and when it changes it takes them out. This is why writing dual or multiple character viewpoints is tricky as you don’t want to lose the reader but also need to keep their voice authentic.

Keeping your characters voice authentic is important and true to what they know or understand. Think about unreliable narrators. You may find another character is better suited as your MC or the story is told better via another POV.

5. World building

Creating realistic and vivid worlds will suck your reader in but don’t drown them in the details. Bogging them down with lengthy descriptions or explanations about the dynamics is going to kill it.

You need to show them the world, let them see, feel, taste and smell it. Put the reader in the world so they live it. Weave it into what’s happening.

If you want to write beautiful prose about nature, stick to poetry.

6. Over-explaining

Give your reader some credit, they’re not stupid. Trust them to fill in the gaps. Show the character living in the story and your reader will figure how things are based on the interactions.

Don’t use dialogue as an info dump. It really doesn’t work. Conversation aren’t showing, if you’re using it as a vice for telling the reader.

7. Fancy language

Okay, so we just covered how smart your readers are, however, they aren’t going to stick around if reading your novel is a vocabulary workout.

Too many complex words will kill the flow of your story. If the reader has to keep stopping, to figure out what they’ve read, you’ll lose them. You don’t want your readers to groan at the thought of reading your story.

In addition, be cautious about using made up words. You may have created new creatures, profession and even a new language, but if your reader needs a translator to make sense of your story, it’s too much hard work.

8. Too comfortable

Any scene that is too cosy isn’t going to compell the reader to keep going. Something needs to happen, something has to grab their interest.

Preferably a terrible conflict that makes your reader get behind your MC and follow them to the end of the story. You need to start with action.

9. Start in the present

The problem with prologues is they take place before your story starts. Many people skip reading them.

Also, using backstory or flash forwards are not great starts because your reader hasn’t developed a relationship with your character so they don’t care about their past or future.

These can have the same impact as a false start if they’re not necessary.

10. Rules are made to be broken

All the above have been associated with losing the reader but there are occasions when it does work.

If you feel strongly that your story needs multiple view points or it’s crucial the MC wakes from a dream, then do it. After all, it is your story.

I made a fun infographic:

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