Beginnings are hard, whether it's a new job, a new relationship, or pulling up roots and moving to a new town. Same with starting a new novel. Beginnings are a bitch on wheels. How to engage the reader/agent/editor and pull them into the story? Here are a few examples/generally accepted rules about how NOT to start a book:
1. An action or battle scene. The reader doesn't know your protagonist from a hole in the ground, and doesn't have a clue who to root for.
2. Prologues. Yeah, I know. Tons of writers open with a prologue, but they are generally frowned upon. Readers/agents/editors want you to start the story where the story starts, at a turning point or game changer for the main character(s).
3. Dialogue without grounding in the characters and the story. Again, the reader doesn't know who to be invested in, and readers like to be invested. I know I do.
4. Dreams. Starting your book with the protagonist having a dream (yes, even THOSE kind) is considered cliche.
5. Ditto on starting a book with the heroine looking in a mirror and reflecting on her looks or her past, or her troubles, or the cute guy she saw the day before on the bus.
6. Double ditto on starting a book with a flashback.
7. A description of the weather. One word: boring.
8. Backstory/info dump. The reader wants to know what's happening NOW, not when Susie was in the seventh grade.
9. Too many characters with weird names (more common in the fantasy genre), or confusing titles. Lord Huffinstuff, Baron Selby Corningware Shellfish, Lady Whistlebloom, and the Earl of Gladbottom, all in the same paragraph makes the reader go Wha??
10. The main character waking up or running from something. Again, considered cliche.
These are just a few. Most romances start in either the hero or the heroine's point of view, to invest the reader in the main characters and the romance right away. After all, that's why we read romance, for the love story, right?
In Demon Hunting in Dixie, I open the story with Addy, my heroine, getting attacked by a demon and saved by Brand, a hunky demon hunter. Hero and heroine meet right away. In my novella, The Bride Wore Demon Dust, the story opens at the wedding. My hero and heroine have tied the knot and wham! My heroine learns (a) her dream man is an immortal demon hunter; (b) she is no longer human; and, (c) she's pregnant and fears she may be carrying some kind of supernatural ET. In book two, Demon Hunting in the Deep South, Evie Douglass finds her high school nemesis dead on her desk at work, murdered with Evie's letter opener. She is whisked from the crime scene by the hero.
All three books follow "the rules." The main characters meet in chapter one and all three begin in the heroine's POV.
Not so Demon Hunting in a Dive Bar. In book three, I break the rules. No big deal? Au contraire. I am a rule follower. I don't break the rules . . . as a rule. But, in this book I do. I start the book in the POV of a secondary character, introducing the heroine through his viewpoint at the end of chapter one.
OPENING SCENE: Demon Hunting in a Dive Bar
Being a zombie sucks. It’s hard to feel sexy when you’re bloated and starting to smell. And zombies have little or no job security. Once the zombie master is done with you, you’re leftover meat.
Tommy never planned on being a zombie, but then who does? One minute he was standing on the sidewalk outside One Shell Square in New Orleans, thinking about what he wanted for supper, and the next minute he was dead, the victim of a freak window-washing accident. Smacked upside the head by a squeegee dropped from the forty-ninth floor. He had a permanent dent in his scalp to prove it.
At twenty-four, death was the last thing on Tommy’s mind. He had a girlfriend and a job managing the Subway Shop on Poydras Street. As jobs went, it paid the bills. There was even a little money left at the end of the month to tuck into his savings account. Tommy had a plan. He was saving up for culinary school at Delgado Community College. After graduation, he and his girlfriend Robyn would open a restaurant of their own. They’d call it The Happy Vegan, and the menu would include things like homemade tortillas served with refried beans and farmer’s cheese, avocado and tomato salad, and sweet fried plantains. It was gonna be kickass.
And then Tommy screwed the pooch by getting himself dead. Sucked didn’t begin to describe it.
He was still flitting around his body in disbelief at the morgue, unable to comprehend the wrong turn this bitch of a day had taken, when his new boss showed up. The guy didn’t look like a zombie maker. Tall and handsome in a dark-haired, lean, and feral kind of way, he had the loose-limbed grace of a young, fit animal.
He was also way too skinny. Zombie maker dude needed to eat a sandwich. Seriously.
But it was his eyes that had caught and held Tommy’s attention. Purple eyes, the guy had honest-to-God Elizabeth Taylor purple eyes. A man and a woman were with him, a couple of sketchy characters. Dirty and ragged, with the nervous, used-up appearance of meth addicts, they hovered around him, skittish as a pair of stray dogs.
“Fresh,” the woman had said, eyeing Tommy’s body with ghoulish interest. Her teeth were rotted black stumps in the gaping hole of her mouth. Tommy was dead, and this chick gave him the willies.
“He’ll do,” Grape Eyes said, and waved his hands over Tommy’s body on the slab.
Quicker than he could say Jerusalem, Tommy had been sucked back into his body. He sat up and looked around, blinking. The examiner on the night shift had slipped out for a quick smoke. Ironically, his nicotine addiction may have saved his life. No telling what the Maker and his scary companions would have done to the poor sap.
“I have a job for you,” the Maker had said to Tommy. Seriously, Grape Eyes was a freak. He acted like talking to a dead guy was the most natural thing in the world, and maybe it was to him.
And just like that, the guy had made Tommy an offer he couldn’t refuse. The s.o.b. put a geis on Tommy—a kind of zombie maker curse that gave him total control over Tommy.
That was how, three days later, Tommy found himself here on a riverbank at the end of nowhere more than a hundred miles from his beloved New Orleans. Hannah, the sign at the outskirts of town had said this bit of backwoods Alabama was called. Tommy had never heard of it. Before now, that is; whoever said “ignorance is bliss” sure knew what they were talking about.
The good news? The Maker had put a spell on Tommy that kept him from decomposing at the regular zombie rate—which, apparently, was roughly the decomp rate of garbage in the hot Louisiana sun. The bad news? He was rotting from the inside out. No one else would probably notice it, but Tommy could smell himself, and it wasn’t pretty. He was a fastidious guy who took pride in his personal appearance. He’d rather be dead than stink. Lucky him, he got both.
On the bright side, it could be the inside of his nose he smelled. Who was he kidding? There was no bright side to being a zombie.
Leave a comment for a chance to win my prize pack (US only, please): a $20 gift card from Books-A-Million and a copy of my novel of your choice (choose from Demon Hunting in Dixie, So I Married a Demon Slayer (the novella), or Demon Hunting in the Deep South. I will pick a winner randomly and announce it around 5 p.m. Central on Monday, October 1st, my birthday!
And don't forget, every commenter is also registered for a chance to win a Kindle at the end of our Blog Blitz!