A Mysterious Place
Today I’m going to share my number one editing tip. There is one sentence, if included in a query letter, that will nearly always get me to send a form reject to the author. That sentence:
“Protagonist X wakes up in a mysterious place and has no idea how he got there.”
The reason why is that this sentence suggests that this novel opens in a way that’s far, far too common: with the hero literally waking up. It is a boring, overdone, and totally expected way to start the manuscript. Even worse, it suggest that the novel’s revisions aren’t fully completed, and that some of the authorial flailing that is part of the process of writing a book (who is my protagonist? where does he live? what does he want?) has ended up in the draft you’re about to send me.
So how do you fix this problem? If your book is a portal story, introduce your hero to us before he falls down the rabbit hole, or start your book with your hero in danger in his new environment. If showing what your hero’s morning is like is just your way of showing us his world, add a chapter beforehand that indicates what’s at stake in your story.
I was just reading the first Harry Potter book to my daughter, and I suspect that J.K. Rowling might have done something similar. Chapter one is about the day that Voldemort dies, and Harry is left on the Dursley’s doorstep. Chapter two is about Harry being awakened by his abusive aunt.
If you ask me, she wrote chapter two first.