Cubicle at the End of the Universe: Chris Krovatin Edition
Genre is my jam. From an early age, I became aware that a piece of entertainment that didn’t involve monsters, super-powers, or alternate histories better be pretty damn good for me to give it the time of day. Working for Del Rey has been a dream, in that I’m not only surrounded by genre fiction but I’m meant to take it very seriously. I am very much a hired nerd.
With that said, there are some tropes in genre fiction which I’ve read so many times that they leave a bad taste in my mouth, and nothing gets to me more than bad beginnings. After years and years of reading manuscripts and writing content for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror properties, I’ve amassed a collection of story starters that make me want to scream “OH, FOR THE LOVE OF—” and rip my computer monitor out of the wall before using it to beat a hole in my skull roughly the size of an English muffin. For my Cubicle entry, I thought I’d share them with you.
Don’t be discouraged if your writing contains, or has ever contained, one of these beginnings (I’m so guilty of this—especially beginning number two, oy…). They’re tried and true, and when they work, they work well. But if you’re writing a piece of genre fiction, consider avoiding these over-used beginnings.
1. Multiple suns or moons rising or setting over wherever. I get it—by explaining that there is more than one sun or moon, you’re implying that we’re not on Earth, or we’re on an Earth that we aren’t used to. But there’s no beginning I find more groan-worthy than this. Forget that it feels like you’ve decided to bite Lucas off from the get go—I’ve just heard it so many times before. Feel free to up the number of celestial bodies in your story, but opening with their ascent or decline is like sandpaper on my brain.
2. A monster walks into a nightlife establishment. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, gargoyles, fey, even the dreaded Filipino aswang—if a story enters with them entering a bar, club, or any other business with the primary function of serving alcohol, I’m sick of it. There are variations on it that work—I mean, even beginning with said beastie already in the bar is better than their dramatic entrance. But the moment where they stride in under the eyes of the other patrons has been done to death.
3. In the beginning, that famous guy did the big thing. Nothing’s cooler than your genre universe having some sort of original creation story—but we can get to that. When a story leads with that, I feel the urge to flip back to the first page every time anyone references it. Focus on this story, the characters and world the reader will find on their own, and not the past of our strange new universe. Let the myth come out organically throughout, but don’t shove it into my face the minute I enter your world. Tolkien didn’t begin The Hobbit with The Silmarillion.
4. Descriptions of space. Space is vast, and black, and implies all sorts of things about death and the universe. But I already know plenty of hippies who will spin yarns at me about the endless valleys of the ether, and anyway, space’s endless oceans of lightless time mean, among other things, that it’s really, really boring. Waxing philosophical about the void first-thing in a story is tiresome at best, a complete impasse at worst, and often makes this reader want to open an airlock without his suit on.
5. When you’re _____, things are like ______. Nothing like a declarative statement! It’s solid, it’s authoritative, it lays down the law. Unfortunately, these usually mean your story begins with a lot of telling the reader how it is, which isn’t a great way to get someone sucked into the action. Remember: show, don’t tell, the principle rule of fiction writing. I know it’s fun to give the personality of your supernatural/otherworldly/totally badass characters a hard outline, but starting with a big claim does little to immerse the reader.