Monday, October 8, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Begin With Dialogue

Author Benjamin Percy states a controversial opinion and then backs it up with common sense. I was going to exclaim, "But wait, I know of stories which opened with dialogue!" He quickly addresses that...
When a reader first picks up a story, they are like a coma patient—fluttering open their eyes in an unfamiliar world, wondering, where am I, when am I, who am I? The writer has an obligation to quickly and efficiently orient.
Which is why writers should avoid opening with dialogue. I know, I know—you can think of ten thousand awesome stories that do exactly that. I don't like any them. With one exception—"Where's Papa going with that axe?"—from the beginning of Charlotte's Web. It works because E.B. White fills the white space: immediately establishing three characters, one of them  in the middle of an arresting gesture.
And that is your job, to fill in the white space. Imagine a blank canvas. Now imagine a sun boinging up until it settles on an afternoon angle. Then a hundred or so trees spike themselves into a distant forest. A field of corn unfurls from the furrows—and a combine grumbles through it.
He finishes his anecdote at the link - I encourage you to click over and see how it ends. In the meantime, Benjamin (I can't bring myself to call him Percy) pretty much makes my usual caveat for me - it's best not to break the rules unless you can just be brilliant, in which case, hey, go for it.
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