When choosing a novel or reading through the slush pile, readers, publishers, and literary agents make snap decisions about books. Below are my snap decisions about ten novel openings written by Novel Boot Camp participants.
I stopped reading (and ended the excerpt) at the point that I was no longer interested in continuing. I also included comments about why the story didn’t catch my interest.
Please play along by tracking which books you would want to read more of. There will be a poll at the end of the post.
To submit your own novel opening, click here.
“I Stopped Reading When…”
John Gold has always been a noisy man. As a baby his mother would sleep wearing earplugs knowing only the wails penetrating the rubber bullets would be worth attending. Every morning his steps thud his arrival to the open plan office he takes large, confident strides through to reach his private sealed off corner on the floor he rules as hedge fund manager.
Calling the earplugs “rubber bullets” confused me so I had to reread the second sentence a few times. The third sentence crams in way too much information and is awkwardly worded. I like the first sentence if it is truly representative of the novel. Make sure it’s not just a gimmick.
The grandiose design of some hotels gave off the perfect ambience of both a vacation and an escape; even if never leaving the city. David came to write away from the distractions of familiarity and the limitations to his master procrastinator tendencies.
“Some hotels” is strangely vague, adding “gave” (in past tense) threw me off as I was expecting present tense. How is a “vacation” different from an “escape”? I’m not sure, based on the awkward wording of the last sentence, if the hotel is making him more or less likely to procrastinate.
Dr Dee Dee Lee swallowed half her coffee as she checked the pathology results. The tide of caffeine washed across her idling brain, replenishing and reconnecting inert synapses. She was ready to look at the patient list for the day.
First up was Jules Harris. She smiled, Jules was a practice ‘baby’.
“Dr. Dee Dee Lee” is a funny name that doesn’t seem to fit the genre. The description of the coffee/caffeine seems unnecessarily complex. Ordinary morning routines aren’t that interesting. What is a “practice ‘baby'”? This opening feels like “throat clearing,” meaning you’re probably starting too early.
Shit. It’s stuck. Really stuck. No matter how hard I push or pull, it doesn’t move an inch. How is this even possible? I will admit, the “out of order” sign that was taped very clumsily to the door should have been my first warning. And the fact that the toilet was tucked away in a dark corner of this venue should have been my second.
I appreciate the attempt at voice. Continuing to refer to the door as “it” in the fourth sentence feels contrived and awkward. “How is this even possible?” doesn’t seem needed to me. I would also cut “very clumsily” because both words are weakening the sentence. I’d like more indication of why being stuck has higher stakes and whether getting stuck is typical of her personality.
The summer I met Anna was scented with coffee.
I was twenty-two and, technically, a student. It was my last semester at the university and I had completed all of my assignments. The only thing left was graduation. I should have started applying for jobs, but I had been putting it off forever. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Whatever job I chose would probably be what I would have to do for the next forty, fifty years. That alone gave me cold feet. I wasn’t ready to commit.
The first sentence feels like it’s trying too hard and falls flat for me. The next paragraph is an info dump with pretty typical feelings about an ordinary situation. No hook.
6. Middle Grade, Mainstream
Rexis Murphy and her little brother Eli walked home from school together every day. Block by block, they walked and talked about the day they’d both endured at school.
There’s no hook and nothing interesting for the reader to latch onto. It lacks an interesting middle grade voice.
7. Young Adult, Mainstream
The moon was bright. Moonlight came down in long streams of pale blue light, illuminating the yellow and red canvas of three circus tents. The tall spires and bright cartoon illustrations painted across the front of the tents were glowing in pale light, emitted by the naked incandescent globes strung on long lengths of metal wire. Attached to the front of the larger of the three tents, a grand big-top, a large sign stood where everyone could see it. On it, an advertisement for the World’s Wildest Live Show ft. the Soaring Summer Siblings & Company was splashed across the board in huge lettering.
Opening with the moon is cliche. Describing things/objects/settings instead of characters rarely pulls in the reader. The voice reads more like middle grade than young adult.
8. Young Adult, Mystery
Elise peeled off her dripping petticoats and wiped the pond-scum from her legs. Her mother rushed into her room with a bucket of water. ‘I’m sorry it’s cold; I hadn’t time to heat it. Oh, darling! What have you done with yourself? Agnes, take the dog outside and keep him there.’
The dialogue doesn’t feel natural. Who is Agnes? Overall, the writing is jarring and disorienting because so little context is provided. Who is Elise? Where is she? Why is she dirty? These questions are not intriguing, but confusing because they should be answered.
The hair on the back of Jaxx Spark’s neck stood ramrod stiff, moments before words he had been dreading sucker punched him in the gut.
Two cliches in the first sentence: the hair on the back of his neck and the sucker punch. This doesn’t demonstrate a unique voice.
The following morning, Amorie awoke in a daze. This can’t be happening, she thought to herself. She walked down the stairs and into the kitchen, leaning against one of the barstools by the bar edge of where the kitchen sink was situated on the other side.
Opening with “the following morning” makes it feel as if you accidentally submitted the second chapter instead of the first. It’s disorienting. The last sentence is extremely awkwardly worded.
What did you think?
To help your fellow Boot Campers, please vote in the poll below and leave a comment about why you did or did not want to continue reading.
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This post is a part of Novel Boot Camp. If you aren’t participating, you should be! Check it out here.