Myth Busting: First Chapters — 9 Comments

  1. I love that you turned to books published for your answers.

    And Voice. Oh, Voice. That’s the hardest one of all!!!

  2. Hi Vonna,
    Did you by any chance record how many of the books were by debut novelists? Thanks for sharing your insights.

  3. Varsha, I make an effort to buy and read debuts so nearly half, eleven in fact, of the twenty-five novels were debuts.
    This is actually a random selection. I had intended to analyze all of the books stacked on top of the chest of drawers in my bedroom, but after the first twenty-five, I’d figured I had enough examples to get a sense of the overall situation.

    Beth, it’s nice to see you here. Thanks for stopping in.

    Natalie and Beth are right, voice is probably the trickiest bit, even more so than coming up with a plot that doesn’t leak.

  4. Vonna, I enjoyed reading the result of your research. I’m surprised so many books had prologues. As far as starting a story with action, I’ve had the experience of being told my beginnings were too abrupt when I started with action.

  5. Great research, Vonna – thanks so much for sharing! I especially enjoyed the bit about not having to jump right into an action scene on the first page. I tend to introduce my characters more naturally, and I always worry if that’s okay. Thanks for reaffirming that it is!

  6. Hi Linda, thanks for joining in. Sorry for the delay in posting your comment; I was away having turkey.

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

  7. Well, I feel your scientific method leaves something to be desired. 😉 After all, you didn’t account for variables (such as debut vs. seasoned author (you’ll often find that the reason agents/editors/etc. recommend chopping the prologue is that, most of the time, new writers don’t know how to use the prologue tool very effectively; when a prologue is done right, we love it)). And “nearly half” quantifies Myth 1 being busted, whereas it quantifies Myth 5 being plausible.

    I think the thing that all writers need to keep in mind is that these aren’t so much rules as guidelines. They help many a beginner writer rethink their work, rather than pushing off with impulse, but they are not to be followed through absolutely.

    And I would never say writers must start with action, but they do need to start with something out of the ordinary. Like The Demon’s Lexicon. That first page starts with fixing the plumbing. How is it out of the ordinary? Well, because Nick was peeved that the leaky pipe had been dripping on his favorite sword. That little, off-hand fact makes the reader sit up and go, “Oh, there’s something interesting going on here. I want to find out what.” That’s what writers need to start with.

    Sorry for being so late to the discussion, but I was intrigued by your comment on Sarah Lewis Holmes’ blog. I think I’ll have to do my own myth busting sometime, particularly with prologues. I’d love to see how many debut novels have them vs. second, third, fourth. Like Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series; the first two books, no prologue (and appropriately so), whereas the second two do have prologues (and extremely necessary prologues at that).

  8. Thanks for bringing a professional viewpoint to the discussion, GK! You caught me on my poor science; I let personal opinion color my interpretation in both #1 and #5. I no longer have my notes on that post, but the fact that I found as many prologues as I did made an impression on me. I had always heard that prologues were entirely frowned upon. I’m glad to know that this is not a blanket rule, but that with the correct prologue and the correct book, a prologue can be a useful tool.