Amazon is a filled with authors who lost patience with the process and self-published too early. They are not necessarily bad writers, nor did they necessarily write bad books. They did, however, write bad opening paragraphs.
In this series, I pick random opening paragraphs from self-published novels and deconstruct what went wrong. I have not read the entire book, and for all I know they’re fantastic. But the opening paragraph doesn’t give me much hope.
So here we go. Let’s dive in together and learn what we can from instructively bad writing.
Today’s is a real doozy.
Original, unedited, first paragraph
In the beginning, there was nothing everything was colorless and uneventful. However, there was a small spot of darkness, the darkness grew more and more every million years. Then it covered everything, it’s power grew ultimately strong. Then the darkness made a thing with all the strength of it just by its thoughts. The darkness decided to give the thing a name, the darkness called it the weapon. Then the darkness made a small formless dome to see how weak his power would be. Then the darkness needed something a little more like itself.
In the beginning, there was nothing everything was colorless and uneventful.
The first sentence is missing punctuation. If you’re going to self-publish, invest in a professional copy edit. It’s not that expensive. That aside, the first sentence assures us that nothing is happening and everything is uneventful. E… exciting?
Also, the “music” of this sentence is very clumsy because of the number of words ending in “ing”. Beginning, nothing, everything.
Also (x2), don’t start your book with “In the beginning”.
- “If I had to keep it” suggestion: UGH. At first, there was nothing.
However, there was a small spot of darkness, the darkness grew more and more every million years
So… there wasn’t really nothing then, was there? Also, this sentence is fragmented, and is a rare case where I think a semi-colon would be more appropriate (note – I am terrified of semi-colons and never use them).
- “If I had to keep it” suggestion: UGH. However, there was a darkness.
Then it covered everything, it’s power grew ultimately strong.
The grammar in this is really problematic. “Its power” not “It’s power”. The version used above reads as “Then it covered everything, it is power grew ultimately strong”.
How did it cover everything if there was nothing?
When the author writes “its power grew ultimately strong”, I can’t figure out if they meant:
- Its power ultimately grew and it became strong OR
- It grew, and its strength was ultimate
Seriously, no idea. I can’t figure out which word “ultimately” is meant to modify. Those are two very different phrases with very different meanings. I suspect the author meant the second, but it’s an awkward way to phrase it.
- “If I had to keep it” suggestion: UGH. It covered everything and it’s power grew
Then the darkness made a thing with all the strength of it just by its thoughts.
In this sentence, I can’t figure out if the author meant:
- The Darkness made a thing that was equal in strength to the Darkness OR
- Using all of its strength, the Darkness made a thing.
I read this, no joke, five times. I’m pretty sure the author meant the first version – the darkness made a thing equal in power to the darkness – but I’m not positive.
Every line this person wrote has two potential meanings because of the odd phrasing. Trust me, a reader’s subconscious picks up on this.
- “If I had to keep it” suggestion: UGH. It made a thing.
The darkness decided to give the thing a name, the darkness called it the weapon. The darkness did this. The darkness did that. The darkness did the hokey pokey and it turned itself around, and that’s what it’s all about.
If the darkness gave it a name, and its name was the weapon, both “The” and “Weapon” should be capitalized.
- “If I had to keep it” suggestion: This is a mess.
Then the darkness made a small formless dome to see how weak his power would be. Then the darkness needed something a little more like itself.
Then the darkness then the darkness THEN THE DARKNESS THEN THE DARKNESS.
IF HE MADE A DOME, IT’S NOT FORMLESS. IT’S A DOME. A DOME HAS A SHAPE.
“To see how weak his power would be” Why would making a dome test his strength? WHY? And what does this have to do with The Weapon? Also, The Weapon is never mentioned again. I read ahead. Nor is the dome. Nor is how the act of creating formless shapes in the shape of shapes tests his power.
Also (x2) – “the darkness made a dome to see how weak his power would be”. Does that mean:
- In order to see how weak the task would make him, the darkness made a thing. OR
- The darkness made a thing and then was curious how weak that thing’s power would be.
Again, not super clear which version the author meant. I’d kind of assume the first, but then, in the next sentence, the darkness is referred to as “itself”. So why is it a “him” in one sentence and then an “it” in the next?
I’ve spent too much time thinking about this. The Darkness is doing a ton of shit, and it’s either creating a bunch of shit to test its powers, or it’s creating a bunch of shit with equal power. I don’t know which. The darkness sucks.
Not the band, they’re balls-out awesome
There is no fixing this one. It’s too “first draft”. I like to give authors credit, and I’m going to assume this is an otherwise talented writer who just got too excited a rushed to publish.
Here’s what I learned from this:
- This is a textbook example of why professionals tell you not to start a book with a prologue. I bet most of this information is either: a) meaningless to the overall story or b) possible to be conveyed through dialogue later on
- Grammar, right? I suck at it. I am terrible at grammar, which is why I’d never self-publish without paying for a professional to edit my work
- Don’t start multiple sentences with the same words over and over. It’s boring.
- If you’re going to use a word, use it correctly.
- Clarity, man. It’s a real challenge. It’s hard to make words mean the thing you want them to mean. I struggle with this a lot too. But you can’t have two subjectively different meanings in your sentences.
- Don’t self-publish the first draft of your novel.