If I read one more debut novel this week that begins with a damn weather report, I'm going to get very cranky.
We've all agreed that the common practice of starting a novel with a variation of It was a dark and stormy night sucks, right? Yet if there's one thing every highly-acclaimed, promising young novelist seems to do without fail, it's to start with a weather report (my debut novel starts off with my protagonist checking out a shady tavern, but I wasn't young or acclaimed, and no one sent me the how-to manual for promising novelists.)
If you write fantastic blizzards, or tornados figure prominently in your plot opening, you may ignore this rant.
I pay special attention to opening lines because they're a pain in the ass to write. They're also the first taste of the novel, and can make or break a sale to a browsing bookstore patron. I work hard on my openers, and I expect other writers do the same. A good opener to me is one that makes me seriously consider burning everything I've written to take up scrapbooking. A Creative Writing 101 version of Doppler Radar on Channel 9 simply does not do that.
What else can I complain about? Oh, yeah: set-up paragraphs. Let me pick on someone famous who won't give a hoot what I think . . .
When Archbishop Richard Rushman, known to Catholic, Protestant and Jew alike as "the Saint of Lakeview Drive" because of his great charitable works, stepped out of the shower, he had less than ten minutes to live. -- first line of "Primal Fear" by William Diehl
With all due respect to Diehl, who I believe is the only writer in existence whose name rhymes with mine, this opener has always bugged me. It was brought to my attention when I read an article by someone talking about great opening lines in modern fiction, but I never saw why this was one of them. As lines go, it's TMI-chunky. Delete from known to works and you get a much cleaner, higher-impact opener:
When Archbishop Richard Rushman stepped out of the shower, he had less than ten minutes to live.
Naked, wet archbishop, death ETA ten minutes. Why throw character backstory in that kind of mix? The opener is also odd because the second sentence in Primal Fear is completely different in tone and structure: Death stood in the doorway. In line one we're given a mini-info dump; in line two Death Has Entered The Building.
And another thing: if you don't want to identify the killer in your novel immediately, please do not refer to him, her or it as Death. I have it on good authority that Death is tired of temping for you. Yes, we know you need to parade suspects and ratchet up the suspense, but please: until Scooby and the kids solve the mystery, refer to the killer as the killer.
I have another rant about heroes who spend half of every love scene quadruple-checking with the heroine to make sure she wants to do the nasty, and then apologizing endlessly for their unbridled lust after the deed is done, but I'll save that one for Valentine's Day.
What common practice among writers makes you cranky?