Here are some great comments from the professionals on what they DON'T want to receive.
Posted by Chuck
Agents Chapter 1 Pet Peeves:
"Anything cliché such as It was a dark and stormy night will turn me off. I hate when a narrator or author addresses the reader (e.g., 'Gentle reader')."
- Jennie Dunham, Dunham Literary
"Sometimes a reasonably good writer will create an interesting character and describe him in a compelling way, but then hell turn out to be some unimportant bit player. Other annoying, unoriginal things I see too often: some young person going home to a small town for a funeral, someone getting a phone call about a death, a description of a psycho lurking in the shadows, or a terrorist planting a bomb."
- Ellen Pepus, Signature Literary Agency (formerly Ellen Pepus Literary)
"Im really turned off by a protagonist named Isabelle who goes by 'Izzy.' No. Really. I am."
- Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management
"I dislike opening scenes that you think are real (I rep adult genre fiction), then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated. And so many writers use this hackneyed device. I dislike lengthy paragraphs of world building and scene setting up front. I usually crave action close to the beginning of the book (and so do readers)."
- Laurie McLean, Larsen/Pomada Literary Agents
"I do in fact hate it when someone wakes up from a dream in Chapter 1, and I dislike an overly long prologue. The worst thing that you can do is let that crucial chapter be boring - thats the chapter that has to grab my interest!"
- Michelle Brower, Folio Literary Management (formerly Wendy Sherman Associates)
"I don't like an opening line that's 'My name is...,' introducing the narrator to the reader so blatantly. I might be prompted to groan before reading on a bit further to see if the narration gets any less stale. There are far better ways in Chapter 1 to establish an instant connection between narrator and reader. Im also usually not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page 1 rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it."
- Michelle Andelman, Lynn C. Franklin Associates (formerly Andrea Brown Literary Agency)
"I hate seeing a 'run-down list:' Names, hair color, eye color, height, even weight sometimes. Other things that bother me is over-describing the scenery or area where the story starts. Usually a manuscript can lose the first 3-5 chapters and start there. Besides the run-down list preaching to me about a subject, I don't like having a character immediately tell me how much he/she hates the world for whatever reason. In other words, tell me your issues on politics, the environment, etc. through your character. That is a real turn off to me."
- Miriam Hees (editor), Blooming Tree Press
"Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with an opening chapter is when an author features too much exposition - when they go beyond what is necessary for simply 'setting the scene.' I want to feel as if I'm in the hands of a master storyteller, and starting a story with long, flowery, overly-descriptive sentences (kind of like this one) makes the writer seem amateurish and the story contrived. Of course, an equally jarring beginning can be nearly as off-putting, and I hesitate to read on if I'm feeling disoriented by the fifth page. I enjoy when writers can find a good balance between exposition and mystery. Too much accounting always ruins the mystery of a novel, and the unknown is what propels us to read further. It is what keeps me up at night saying 'just one more chapter, then I'll go to sleep.' If everything is explained away in the first chapter; I'm probably putting the book down and going to sleep."
- Peter Miller, Peter Miller Literary
"1. Squinting into the sunlight with a hangover in a crime novel. Good grief -- been done a million times. 2. A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape. 3. A trite statement ("Get with the program" or "Houston, we have a problem" or "You go girl" or "Earth to Michael" or "Are we all on the same page?"), said by a weenie sales guy, usually in the opening paragraph. 4. A rape scene in a Christian novel, especially in the first chapter. 5. 'Years later, Monica would look back and laugh...' 6. "The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land."
- Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary
"Here are things I can't stand: Cliché openings in Fantasy can include an opening scene set in a battle (and my peeve is that I don't know any of the characters yet so why should I care about this battle) or with a pastoral scene where the protagonist is gathering herbs (I didn't realize how common this is). Opening chapters where a main protagonist is in the middle of a bodily function (jerking off, vomiting, peeing, or what have you) is usually a firm NO right from the get-go. Gross. Long prologues that often don't have anything to do with the story. So common in Fantasy again. Opening scenes that our all dialogue without any context. I could probably go on..."
- Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary
"I recently read a ms when the second line was something like, 'Let me tell you this, Dear Reader...' What do you think of that?"
- Sheree Bykofsky, Sheree Bykofsky Literary
"I know this may sound obvious, but too much 'telling' vs. 'showing' in the first chapter is a definite warning sign for me the first chapter should present a compelling scene, not a road map for the rest of the book. The goal is to make the reader curious about your characters, fill their heads with questions that must be answered, not fill them in on exactly where, when, who and how. Dont ever describe eye color either..."
- Emily Sylvan Kim, Prospect Agency
"Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking ... Authors often do this to transmit information, but the result is action in a literal sense but no real energy in a narrative sense. The best rule of thumb is always to start the story where the story starts."
- Dan Lazar, Writers House
"I hate reading purple prose, taking the time to set up-- to describe something so beautifully and that has nothing to do with the actual story. I also hate when an author starts something and then says '(the main character) would find out later.' I hate gratuitous sex and violence anywhere in the manuscript. If it is not crucial to the story then I don't want to see it in there, in any chapters."
- Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary