I’m blogging chapter by chapter through a great book on the art of writing by James Scott Bell. I encourage you to pick up a copy of “The Art Of War For Writers”.

Tip 37 is this: Discipline cliched or predictable story beginnings.

Call me Bear. 

JSB gives three Thou shalt nots in this reading.

Don’t start your story with a description of weather.

Don’t start it with a dream.

Don’t start it with ‘Happy people in happy land.

He offers a couple exceptions. You can describe the weather but “only if you connect it to a character viewpoint and use it to add to the tone of the scene.”

I begin my novel A Sparrow Could Fall with weather, but I think it passes Bell’s smell test. You be the judge.

The thinnest peel of orange sun peered above the western horizon as the pick-up pulled off the blacktop onto the gravel road and headed north. It was the only sun the man had seen that gloomy October day, and appeared now beneath the clouds like a sliver of light under a windowless prison door. Then the opening vanished as quickly as it appeared, slammed shut by the brooding darkness. The man turned back to the road ahead.

I’m after both giving the reader a character viewpoint and also setting a somber tone.

But at least it’s not a dream, which Bell says do not attempt until you are a best-selling author. Then you can break every rule in the book.

As for “happy people”, the idea here is to inject tension into the story right away. If the husband dies in a car accident in chapter two, it’s – and I quote – Not soon enough.

Here’s a project to consider. My idea, not JSB’s. Read through this list of the American Book Reviews 100 Best First Lines. (Click here.)

Write down your ten best. Think about why you like them so much. Then go and do likewise.


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