11 Ways Not To Start Your Novel – No. 3

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?

OK?

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Because there are definitely a lot of unpublished novels that start that way.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

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7 Responses to 11 Ways Not To Start Your Novel – No. 3

  1. Annecdotist says:

    How interesting! But if you’re not copying published novels, you wouldn’t necessarily know it’s a cliché.
    I can only think of one time I’ve mentioned the moon in my fiction, but it’s quite hard to describe in my opinion, so wouldn’t mind some tips from these writers!

  2. jeannie7 says:

    Put it down to the current fascination with the gothic! My moon mention is well into my novel in a romantic scene setting…
    Well, I find a full moon in a clear night sky romantic! Dvorak even wrote a Song to the Moon for the woodsprite Rusalka, asking the moon to tell a prince of her love for him.

  3. As I read this, Paul Auster’s Moon Palace popped into my head. Opening line “It was the summer that men first walked on the moon.”

  4. I fight with these obvious images all the time – kicking them out as much as I can! Interesting what you said about the moon, I had noticed that, and recently I added some poems to Pinterest (no-one is that much into poetry on Pinterest!) interesting that the only one that has been liked and repinned so far, is a slightly quirky one – about the moon!! 😉

    I’m not sure what the fascination with the moon is either, but I have noticed in recent years a lot of programmes on television, drama or documentary, have had very brief images of the moon appear on the screen for about 2- 5 seconds. It’s all presented as a bit arty, and creates a pause between scene changes, sometimes indicating that the next piece coming up is several hours later and is now night time – but it’s not always for that reason, some appear to have no reason at all.

    It started happening so much, it really annoyed me, out of pure curiosity I began to count the amount of times it occurred. Some days I would count as many as 4 or 5 moon images appearing on programmes each day – that’s a lot of moons in a week! Perhaps this might explain some of the reasons behind why the moon ends up in writers minds! Images that are very brief and often frequent, can be very powerful – and I’m very sure the talented and ever so sharp Mr Derran Brown knows all about that little trick!! 😉

  5. jeannie7 says:

    I still say that there is some intangible emotional draw for humans towards that floating orb in the night sky…the unattainable longed for state, symbolized up there, shining! Our minds work with symbols and the moon is a great symbol for something to aspire to which seems just out of reach, but still longed for.
    Or am I being impossibly romantic?

  6. Darkly Dreaming Dexter opens with the moon, but it’s really well done.

  7. Ksenija says:

    Guilty for the moon and guilty for the weather! In the same novel. 😀 On the positive note, my (Slovenian) editor who has a BA in literature loved the first chapter, despite a cliché beginning. I didn’t even know it was a cliché, until somebody pointed it out. I just thought it fits perfectly …

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