Ask Daphne! What DON’T You Want To See?

October 8th, 2010 • Kate

marc-jacobs-weird-thumb-425x337-98091I could have gone with an image of Uggs, but I think these Marc Jacobs high desert boots are a level of fugly that’s hard to beat. And they tie in so well with today’s Ask Daphne question:

What are some of the things you don’t like to see in the first chapter of a book?

Best regards,

I could expand on this for ages, I think, given an infinite amount of time, but in the interest of being pithy, I don’t want to see:

  1. The main character waking up.
  2. The MC looking into a mirror to describe themselves.
  3. The narrator telling me how ordinary the MC is.
  4. An opening line that references the weather.
  5. A prologue with characters that aren’t our MCs.

And to be clear, those are all things that really can turn me off from page one.  From the first line, even.  Then again, done in a new or interesting way, they can still work, but assume these are generalizations, ok?

Going into more detail on the first chapter, if you’ve avoided our top five pitfalls, I would be wary of casual racism or sexism that isn’t the point of the story. Because of recent internet chatter, I’m also particularly conscious about the existence or lack thereof of parents.  Too much swearing can also be off-putting, but it’s a more personal opinion, and can be swayed depending on how it’s used.

In terms of content, I’m not sure I ever really want to read a story that opens with a frank and brutal description of rape — or any sex act, really. But I’m not going to say no to them unilaterally, because your writing may elevate the scene beyond something that bothers me and into a real hook or selling point.

And just so I can end this on a real positive note, here’s what I want to see in an opening chapter:

  1. Intriguing characters.
  2. A compelling plot.
  3. Conflict and drama, and/or tension of some sort.
  4. World building.
  5. Spectacular writing.

Further questions on opening chapters?  Oh, and for those of you looking for our weekly About My Query post, we’re going to try doing them every other week for a bit.  And I’m looking for a few good queries — or bad ones, even — so long as you’re willing for them to be posted and critiqued here. I’m only going to take the first four, since that’ll get us through two months of posts, and that’s long enough.  If you have your query ready to review, send it to, not the usual email for query submissions. Be sure to put “About My Query” in the subject line, along with your book’s title. We’re open to ALL genres for these posts, not just manuscripts you would submit to me for consideration.

Good luck! Update: got all the AMQueries I need for the next two months. I’ll be emailing you if you sent one to let you know when it will be posted.

Filed Under: Ask Daphne!

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10 Responses to “Ask Daphne! What DON’T You Want To See?”

  1. Allison Says:

    I'm not sure what you mean by this:

    "Because of recent internet chatter, I’m also particularly conscious about the existence or lack thereof of parents."

    Does this mean we need to be clear if the MC has parents…? *is confused*

  2. Kate Says:

    Sorry, I should have put in the link that I had on my last live blog, which talked about the proliferation of Dead Parents in kids' books lately.

  3. Meghan Says:

    Yikes, those shoes really are hideous!

    I read an article recently (in fact, I think the link might be in one of Daphne's past blog entries) that said there are too many stories these days where the MC is an orphan. I guess this is a drawback because it's repetitive, but the article also implied that creating an MC with no parents can be a lazy route, because those are two characters that would have significant impact on the MC that you don't have to write about, since they're dead.

    I don't know how true that is, unless the writer also doesn't put in any other important, in-depth characters for the MC to interact with.

    Anyway, that's all I remember off the top of my head about that article. There was probably more. I'll look for the link.

    As to whether you need to be clear if the MC has parents, I'm not sure. I can see how the topic of parents might not come up at all in the first chapter, though I assume it would fairly early in the story.

    I also dislike it when the prologue has characters that aren't the MC! In fact, prologues in general are often annoying.

  4. Ransom Says:

    #4: my first line. don't fire me!!

  5. Ransom Says:

    I mean, #3: my first line. An offense hopefully negated by section II, #5!

  6. Shelley Moore Thomas Says:

    Uh-oh…am I in trouble if I think those shoes are kind of cute?

  7. Michelle Says:

    thank you – this is great 🙂

  8. Monday Writing Update | Sarah Anne Loudin Thomas Says:

    […] week I was reading a blog about some of the things editors don’t like to see in a manuscript. Number 2 was a character looking in the mirror in order to give the reader a description of that […]

  9. Claire Gittens Says:

    Thanks a lot. About to embark on a new WIP, and I'll definitely keep these in mind.

  10. kt literary » Blog Archive » Getting Back to Speed Says:

    […] actually answered part of this question back in the archives in October. Specific turn-offs […]