Tip ‘O the Day Tuesday

Advice on opening novels with dreams, flashbacks, backstory and prologues: Don’t.

The first few pages of a novel ground the reader in the story’s reality. They become comfortable in that world, attached to the characters described in the first scene or chapter. For the reader, a sudden change in this reality is like standing one moment in modern Tokyo and blinking, then finding oneself in the American Old West when the eyelids lift. It’s disorienting. It can jolt the reader out of the story.

Sometimes newer writers  are tempted to use dreams, flashbacks, backstory and prologues because the real opening to their story is not dynamic enough. It’s easy to write an action-packed dream sequence of a young girl running from white slavers in the alleys of a foreign city. Not so easy to draft that action-packed opening once she’s 24 and a data entry clerk at a small-town bank. But to start with one just to get the reader hooked and then switch to the other is a trick. It’s not nice to fool mother nature and it’s even worse to trick a reader. Instead, find a better opening within the reality that will persist for the rest of the story.

This is where those of you who’ve read CARVED IN STONE, the first of my gargoyles series (which opens with a prologue), are clenching your fists and screaming at the computer. Yes, I’ve used prologues. Not in my first book, though. Or my second. Or my third.

Authors more skilled than me probably even get away with dream and flashback openings. But these are experienced authors who’ve honed their craft and are granted some leeway by editors and loyal readers. If you’re seeking that first sale…stay away from these devices at openings to your novel.

Happy writing,


3 Responses to “Tip ‘O the Day Tuesday”

  1. 1 Wendy February 1, 2010 at 6:56 am

    do you have a facbook page if not it would be nice if you did so people like me could leave thank yous for writting great books i love them alot Wendy

  2. 3 DumansArk April 1, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Good tip!!!

    Yes, as a reader, I too find myself frustrated when this really intense scene does its job and captures my full attention…

    …only to turn the page to that desk clerk you mentioned.


    But as a writer… it sure is easy to fall into!

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