I’ve had the pleasure of reading some slush stories from some authors this week. Most of the authors are just starting out, and unpublished. I’m always out to support my fellow story-crafters, but I’m writing this blog entry to specifically complain about something I’m seeing popping up in these slush stories. (Like, a lot!)
My problem: weather.
9-out-of-10 of the stories I read opened up with weather. Just weather. No character, no other descriptions, no plot set-up…just weather. (“It was a dark and stormy night.”)
Many of my more seasoned vets out there know that opening a story up with weather is a giant no-no. The memo hasn’t gotten out to some of our unpublished friends yet, however.
Now, I’m not writing this blog to criticize other authors, or to poke fun. I’m writing this blog to look at some very good reasons to NEVER open up a story with weather. (Well…almost never. Wheel of Time novels open up with weather–the wind to be exact…but those openings aren’t really the beginning, after all.)
So here’s the skinny, according to my own humble opinion:
1- Opening up with weather is lazy. I get it! Creating complex characters and an amazing world system is hard. Crazy hard! And many authors like to settle into the task with a slow opening build. That’s fine. If you need to write “it was a dark and stormy night” in order to get into the swing of the tone of your story, do it. Just edit it out of the final cut, for your reader’s sake. In the end, if you need a warm up to get into your story, no one wants to read it. I don’t want to watch the Lakers do their hamstring stretches, I want to watch the game.
2- Setting the scene is important, but this isn’t a movie. Many times I find that people open with weather because they are imagining their story in a movie/TV format. Films have framing shots. That is important for a visual media, and in visual media these establishing shots can happen in a less than two seconds. Literature is not a visual media. Framing shots in word can drone on for fifteen minutes or more, utterly losing its moody, scenic intent. It is an intellectual media. Writing requires a mental pull (or hook). Film media can get away, and even be enhanced by, wide opening framing shot, designed to pull you in visually. There are very few author who can pull this off this same effect in word, and rarely with the same impact as a visual media. There are exceptions to every rule, but there is still a rule. I think it shows a great lack of experience to open up a book with weather (or “the framing shot”). It sort of tells me that the writer might be approaching their story (maybe their first?) after consuming a lot of other media–like video games, or movies. These types of media are certainly good source material. But, writing just has different rules and expectations for format and focus.
3- Lastly, in my opinion: CHARACTER!
When I read a story I’m most concerned with the people at the focus of that story. The characters are what the reader cares about. They are our eyes and ears in the story. They are what drives the plot. This is why it is typically considered par to start a story with action. Take a character, that is awesome and 3D, and throw him/her into an equally compelling situation off the bat. This is an intellectual hook–added bonus, if you make us love that character quickly you get the emotional hook, as well. I don’t want to hear about how dark and stormy your night is, unless there is some one I care about stomping through it.
So, this final point brings me to the title of this blog:
Don’t give me, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
I want to read , “He was a dark and stormy knight.”