Here is a thread of everything Literary Agents and readers are tired of seeing. Please comment if you have ever been stuck in one of these writing cliches or your story has something that needs to be fixed before ever getting considered published! Continue reading if you want to make your story go from—
A ton of writers starts off their story with a false beginning like Wizard of Oz it was all a dream sort of thing, Many literary agents get bored with this and often stop reading since So many people do this.
Though prologues may be a great way to start your story or introduce something interesting, there are a lot of cliches in prologues that Everyone uses. Make sure to avoid these. Some of these include using the prologue to dump information onto the readers.
Here is a few examples of why literary agents DON’T like prologues!
“I’m not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page one rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it.”
– Michelle Andelman , Regal Literary
“Prologues are usually a lazy way to give back-story chunks to the reader and can be handled with more finesse throughout the story. Damn the prologue, full speed ahead!”
– Laurie McLean , Foreword Literary
Descriptions are great and all, but do you like to describe every little thing about the character and everything around them for 5 paragraphs long in the beginning few paragraphs. I catch myself doing this often since I am a descriptive writer, but often this can only make the reader even more uninterested!
“Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with an opening chapter is when an author features too much exposition – when they go beyond what is necessary for simply ‘setting the scene.’ I want to feel as if I’m in the hands of a master storyteller, and starting a story with long, flowery, overly-descriptive sentences (kind of like this one) makes the writer seem amateurish and the story contrived. Of course, an equally jarring beginning can be nearly as off-putting, and I hesitate to read on if I’m feeling disoriented by the fifth page. I enjoy when writers can find a good balance between exposition and mystery. Too much accounting always ruins the mystery of a novel, and the unknown is what propels us to read further.”
– Peter Miller , PMA Literary and Film Management
“The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.”
– Chip MacGregor , MacGregor Literary
“I dislike endless ‘laundry list’ character descriptions. For example: ‘She had eyes the color of a summer sky and long blonde hair that fell in ringlets past her shoulders. Her petite nose was the perfect size for her heart-shaped face. Her azure dress — with the empire waist and long, tight sleeves — sported tiny pearl buttons down the bodice. Ivory lace peeked out of the hem in front, blah, blah.’ Who cares! Work it into the story.”
– Laurie McLean , Foreword Literary
Do you ever catch yourself starting out with the basic alarm clock scene, the first day of school or other non-important tasks, well literary agents and readers often find this tacky and again a BORE!
“Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking.”
– Dan Lazar , Writers House
“I don’t really like ‘first day of school’ beginnings, ‘from the beginning of time,’ or ‘once upon a time.’ Specifically, I dislike a Chapter One in which nothing happens.”
– Jessica Regel , Foundry Literary + Media
Are your characters gorgeous beyond belief? Or do you like to give an information dump? Well check out these reviews from literary agents that might have read stories just like yours!
“I don’t like descriptions of the characters where writers make them too perfect. Heroines (and heroes) who are described physically as being virtually unflawed come across as unrelatable and boring. No ‘flowing, wind-swept golden locks’; no ‘eyes as blue as the sky’; no ‘willowy, perfect figures.’ ”
– Laura Bradford , Bradford Literary Agency
“Many writers express the character’s backstory before they get to the plot. Good writers will go back and cut that stuff out and get right to the plot. The character’s backstory stays with them — it’s in their DNA.”
– Adam Chromy , Movable Type Management
“I’m turned off when a writer feels the need to fill in all the backstory before starting the story; a story that opens on the protagonist’s mental reflection of their situation is a red flag.”
– Stephany Evans , FinePrint Literary Management
“One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
– Rachelle Gardner , Books & Such Literary
How do you use your writing voice, here are a few techniques people use that just kills the mood of the story!
“I know this may sound obvious, but too much ‘telling’ vs. ‘showing’ in the first chapter is a definite warning sign for me. The first chapter should present a compelling scene, not a road map for the rest of the book. The goal is to make the reader curious about your characters, fill their heads with questions that must be answered, not fill them in on exactly where, when, who and how.”
– Emily Sylvan Kim , Prospect Agency
“A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue.”
– Daniel Lazar , Writers House
“I don’t like an opening line that’s ‘My name is…,’ introducing the narrator to the reader so blatantly. There are far better ways in Chapter One to establish an instant connection between narrator and reader.”
– Michelle Andelman , Regal Literary
“Sometimes a reasonably good writer will create an interesting character and describe him in a compelling way, but then he’ll turn out to be some unimportant bit player.”
– Ellen Pepus , Signature Literary Agency
May I add that I dislike stories that begin with a long, boring introduction of all the characters? Some books drone on and on about it in the first chapter and it just gets on my nerves.
First you’ll have the main character, what they’re wearing and then what they look like, then their friends/family walk in and you get that same description of all of them. Instead of slipping descriptions in the dialogue, they just say it all in one block of text.
eg. “Okay,” she said, brushing a strand of dark hair out of her face, “this is good.”
She had dark hair that framed her face, deep blue eyes and fair, freckled skin. She was wearing a light blue blouse, white jeans and purple flats that brought out the colour in her sparkling orbs.
I guess this is similar to the lore/info dump, but more annoying to me. I’d say either keep it brief or slip it into dialogue.
“In romance, I can’t stand this scenario: A woman is awakened to find a strange man in her bedroom — and then automatically finds him attractive. I’m sorry, but if I awoke to a strange man in my bedroom, I’d be reaching for a weapon — not admiring the view.”
– Kristin Nelson , Nelson Literary Agency
“Cliché openings in fantasy can include an opening scene set in a battle (and my peeve is that I don’t know any of the characters yet so why should I care about this battle) or with a pastoral scene where the protagonist is gathering herbs (I didn’t realize how common this is).”
– Kristin Nelson , Nelson Literary
I am definitely irritated when I read a story and the beginning starts out like, “My name is… This is my dog… My best friend’s name is… and she works at… My family lives… and our house is…” LIKE STOP WRITING LIKE THIS. This is honestly the worst type of writing you can do.
YESSS! The best example of this is from Chlorine Grown Roses, an anime fanfic on DeviantArt -
Hello… my name is Azusa Kimber Tachibana. My hair is black with blonde tips worn in a long left side ponytail and another one that’s short on the right and I have green eyes with a little pink heart in them. People have always called me weird for that and I was teased… I always wear a short black dress with a silver cross on the front, long black socks and black boots with skulls on them. I’m 15 but i skipped two grades because I’m really smart so I’m in 11th grade. My skin is very pale…i’ve been mourning for a year. You see… my parents…they died last year…they…got murdered. I’ve been inside my mansion in america (I was born in America and I live there) for a year morning and i never left . I miss my parents…
Other than the fact that the MC is bragging about her appearance/looks, it’s just way too flowery and wordy to be enjoyable.
I totally agree with these. You should show more than tell, but of course, there are places where telling is fine. The issue is when you’re doing it too much. Another issue is when you’re describing everything in a flowery way. Not only is this unnecessary, but it’s also annoying to read.
Yeah, purple prose really gets to me. Whenever I find myself doing that I always break the mood with a dumb comedic trope
eg. I was sat atop the mountain as the sun slowly set, casting a dazzling orange light over the fields and hills below. The stars were beginning to come out, spreading across the sky in constellations unlike anything back home. I took out my journal and continued my starmap, something which was much easier than on earth due to the fact that the stars in the Homeworld never moved positions. Everything was calm and still. In other words, boring.
Idk if the grammar in this is good but I think it’s funny and a good example.
Alright, you’re in a hurry! I get it. But you don’t have time to try on five different outfits, put on makeup, AND shower. Nor do you have the time to leisurely hang out with your friend and walk to class.
Honestly, the waking up and ‘I’m late!’ intro is pretty bad, and uncreative. Bad way to start.
My number one in the list “How to make a crap story” is the customization only chapter. Like, dude… Okay, these customization templates are free to use, you don’t even have to write code anymore. Add customization, but put some story too. Never read a story that does it.