With a Description of the Moon
Quick! Pick a card, any card.
Now think of a number between 1 and 10.
Next think of a colour.
And a vegetable.
Got them all?
Carrot, red, 7 and either the Ace of Spades or the Queen of Hearts, failing that something with a 3 or a 7 in it (almost definitely not the Nine of Clubs).
If any or all of your answers match these then you have just fallen prey to cognitive bias. It’s a funny little quirk of human nature that has long been taken advantage of by street magicians. Our brains collectively tend to follow similar pathways and for some reason these are the answers that those pathways most often lead us to. I’m not sure why this is but Derren Brown would probably know.
Not everyone will come up with these answers but if you ask enough people you will start to see a definite trend.
Incidentally, I have noticed a similarly hard to explain and seemingly random trend in how new writers choose to start their novels. I can’t explain this one either (maybe even Derren would fail to) but after some time of reading the opening lines of submissions I found myself thinking, “wow, people really like the moon, don’t they?”
And they do.
Once I had noticed this particular submission phenomenon the moon suddenly seemed to be everywhere I looked in opening paragraphs and spooky prologues. It makes a certain amount of sense, granted. Mentioning the moon in your opening line immediately lets your reader know that it is night-time, which is useful. I suppose it also creates a certain gothic atmosphere or maybe suggests that something clandestine might be happening but overall I can’t quite fathom why it pops up so very often as an opening image.
But it does.
It’s not even as if new writers are emanating a popular narrative technique in this case, not as far as I can tell. I personally couldn’t think of any examples of this one from well-known novels. Can you think of one? There must be at least one published novel that begins by describing the moon.
Because there are definitely a lot of unpublished novels that start that way.
There’s nothing wrong with it at all, just as there is nothing amiss if you immediately visualised 7 red carrots sitting on the Ace of Spades. It’s just not original. Oddly.
So, in the interest of standing out from the crowd avoid describing the moon in your opening line. And maybe next time go with aubergine.
By Vicki Le Feuvre