5 Ways You Should NOT Start Your Book

So we're all just going to go ahead and accept that all I do is write lists. But, hey! Lists are fun.

I'll put a little disclaimer up here first: this list is my opinion. It isn't "the only way".

Here's me looking super attractive, as always.

1. Don't start with dialogue. 

Big no-no, guys. Why? You throw the reader into a story they know nothing about. Literally, nothing. They don't know who's speaking, why they're speaking, how they're speaking, or what provoked them to make that statement. It's like walking in on a stranger having a conversation with someone else. Good first impression? I think not. Also, it's confusing.

2. Don't start with the past.

Like Captain America's said, no prologues. You don't need them! Be in the here-and-now. Why? It's confusing when you start a book about a 15-year-old, but after a few hundred words you realize the book is going to be about an 18-year-old. If there's one thing you must avoid, it's confusion to the reader. Readers are so fussy. They'll chuck a book if they don't click with it.

3. Don't start with an action scene. 

Phew, action scenes are hot and tens and fast at the best of times. Take our Avengers movie, for instance. If we'd started by blowing aliens up left, right, and centre, you wouldn't have known who was fighting. You wouldn't appreciate Black Widow and Hawkeye's little thing happening. You'd have no idea Ironman and Captain America disliked each other (yeah, I'm toning it down for a G-rated audience). You needed to meet us before you appreciated our fight.

Action scenes in the first 500 words tend to be very confusing. Don't start there.

4. Don't start with a passive sentence. 

I know, I know, most famous books do. It can be okay. But if you can avoid it, go for something with less passive verbs like "was" and "is".

5. Don't start with the meaning of life.

The meaning of life is awesome and all that. But to be frank? In the first 500-words of reading a book, I don't care about the character's philosophies. I want to know about the world, the people, the plot.

Flowery dialogue confuses me. Sure it can be written in good voice and be interesting and all that, but I honestly don't believe it belongs in the first chapter.

And, before I go back into hiding, I'll leave you with some fantastic first-sentences. (Most of them don't go with the "no passive", but hey. You don't always smash win.)

One minute the teacher was talking about the Cival War. And the next minute he was gone."
Gone by Michael Grant
Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she'd been told that she would kill her true love."
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Mother thinks I'm dead.
Legend by Marie Lu

Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green


  1. I'm glad you put these tips up! :) Especially since you've informed me that I need to rewrite practically every single one of my first sentences (ha).

    1. Oh, you mean at that Crit&Ed party on Notebook Sisters? Well, I'd never tell anyone "you must rewrite". Hopefully I gave you some suggestions, but ultimately it's up to you! Sorry if it sounded like I thought you MUST rewrite your first sentence. That wasn't my intention at all.

    2. LOL, no I meant this post! XD And I was sort of being sarcastic. (But a lot of my starting sentences really do suck. ;P They're so cheesy, I can smell the mozzarella).

  2. I actually disagree with some of these, most notably starting in dialogue - I think it can be done right. That being said, it /does/ have to be done right... there's also a whole great school of thought that you should, in fact, start with action - in media res - but again, it has to be done /right/.

    1. That's okay! Like I said at the beginning of the post, it's just my opinion! I've read a lot of tips on author/agent blogs, though, which is why I drew these conclusions. But ultimately, it's up to you (or your agent/publishing house, I guess!) XD

  3. Not only do I love your commentary on your physical appearance spot-on and hilarious, but you have brilliant points here. I mean, I'm okay with dialogue or the meaning of life if it's interesting, or makes sense, or has great voice, but action scenes? Not liking. I like quick and snappy, preferably hilarious, and something that indicates the style of the rest of the book. Good post, Hulk. Go smash.

    1. Aw, thanks, Mime! *feels a bit better about surprisingly controversial post* I do like "meaning of life-ish" things, when it's contemporary, because usually the narrator's voice is awesome. Action scenes totally confuse me, though, as a reader. >_<

  4. This was good. I don't agree with all of it, but as you said, it's your opinion not fact.
    I don't care for prologues much (but I wrote one for my book regardless... we authors are such hypocrites). I can't think of a book that had the meaning of life right in the beginning. Maybe Les-Mis, but I don't quite remember how that started. I'm sure there was definitely some life philosophy in there later, though.
    Anyway. Again, good post, Cait.

    ~Robyn Hoode

  5. These are all very, very good tips for new writers. However, I don't think they really apply as much to experienced writers (or at least writers who have their ten million words under their belts). Of course, that goes for almost any writing advice...