11 Ways Not To Start Your Novel – No. 10

With Extended Dialogue (or in a car)

“What do you mean you’re not going to do a blog post about not starting your novel in a car?”

“Well, it’s just that we’ve already attacked airports and that’s led people to anticipate further attacks on modes of transport. Also to be honest I think the opening-in-a-car craze is starting to tail off a little. I haven’t had one starting during a motorway traffic jam in a week or so now.”

“But a car journey isn’t a great way to start your novel.”

“You’re right but there are just too many variables to consider.”

“Like what?”

“Ok so having your protagonist caught in a traffic jam is generally not an action-packed way to start your novel but what if they were really funny or it was a creepy situation in some way or it wasn’t about the traffic jam at all, like maybe it was about the day the family dog Bessie jumped out the car window and was never seen or heard from again? Any of those variables might make the scene work.”

“It would still feel a bit unoriginal during the opening lines. It would be hard to immediately establish that this situation was special. I just think a lot of agents and publishers are probably growing tired of this setting for opening scenes.”

“True. But what about a high speed car chase instead of the usual stuck-on-a-motorway scenario?”

“That has been done too.”

“But has it been done enough for us to actively discourage it? What about if there was a really funny guy in a high speed chase in a creepy situation with the family dog Bessie riding along? You might forget there was even a car involved.”

“I’d still discourage opening right at that point in time for most authors.”

“Yeh but maybe some could pull it off?”

“Maybe.”

“Perhaps instead of discouraging car journeys we could discourage any journey? At the moment I seem to be getting a lot of manuscripts that open on trains. I’m getting a little biased against trains.”

“But isn’t that a bit over restrictive?”

“You’re probably right. How about not starting with a big move? That’s how about half of all children’s submissions start, I find. They’re either going to spend the holiday with an estranged family member, being evacuated or their cruel parents are pulling them up at the roots and moving them to an entirely new place where they’ll be bullied at their new school for being different and they’ll miss their friends.”

“It doesn’t really apply to adult fiction as much though, does it?”

“No. Also I like a good evacuee opening chapter, name cards and crying mothers and all the kids crammed into an enclosed space, emotions running high. It really gets you on the protagonist’s side and it’s an excellent breeding ground for tension. Also the thought of having to move did used to terrify me as a child.”

“You lived in Jersey. How big of a shakeup could moving from one part of a tiny island to another part of a tiny island have caused your life?”

“If we’d been moved to the wrong parish I was scared I might end up having to go to Beaulieu.”

“What’s Beaulieu?”

“Rival girls school to mine.”

“If you’re going to upload a transcript of this conversation aren’t you worried that no one will get that reference?”

“My friends who read this might.”

“Do many of your friends read this?”

“Probably not.”

“I feel like this conversation has gone off track.”

“It’s definitely gone on for longer than it should have.”

“Aren’t you afraid people will think this is just lazy? I mean it doesn’t really count as a proper blog post does it?”

“Well, it’s proving difficult to make your voice sound a bit different to mine considering that this is just an argument I’m having with myself. I like to think I’m employing some dialogue skills here.”

“But are you using any other skills beyond that? You’re not being descriptive, you’re not taking the characterisation any further and you’ve not given your reader a shred of exposition yet.”

“I’m being mysterious. Creating intrigue.”

“Yes but surely there’s a limit? I mean how many people do you think are even going to read this far? They might as well just go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations if this is all you’re going to give them.”

“Hey now. I’m doing other stuff too. There’s a lot going on.”

“Such as?”

“Well I’m creating conflict.”

“People argue in coffee shops too you know.”

“It’s the caffeine.”

“What I mean is you’re not giving anyone reading this very many reasons to care about whether we have conflict or not, are you? Who are we? What does it matter if we have conflict?”

“Well I think I’ve established that I’m me.”

“And I am?”

“Um… Clare?”

“Is Clare this confrontational?”

“No. Clare’s really nice. But my first draft where we were just being really nice to each other and having a reasoned discussion wasn’t interesting enough.”

“And why’s that?”

“… Because opening with extended dialogue isn’t a great idea?”

“Precisely.”

“So could we just do the post about that then?”

“I guess. But could you find a way to at least touch on the idea that starting your novel in a car might not be a great idea either?”

“I’m sure I’ll think of something.”

By Vicki Le Feuvre

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This entry was posted in Editorial, Meet the DA team, Submissions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to 11 Ways Not To Start Your Novel – No. 10

  1. Cathryn says:

    Hehehehehehe *Crosses out three page opener consisting only of dialogue*

  2. Andy Giles says:

    Hahaha… Loved how you did that… Ingenious.

  3. ROSEMARY WILLAIMS says:

    Ha! Loved it, nothing better than eavesdropping in a coffee shop sometimes. Mine’s a latte please and would you read my manuscript so far? I’ll buy you cake with that coffee xxx

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