Here’s the newest installment of Kristen Nelson’s series about types of beginnings that often don’t work.
Your opening pages might be in trouble if…
#4) Your novel opens with a lengthy passage of “talking heads” dialogue.
Here’s what fascinates me: The openings we suggest that you avoid actually evolve out of a writer’s good intentions. In this case, writers know that starting with dialogue can be a very dynamic way to open a story. Dialogue is inherently more energetic than a description-of-the-setting opening, and if done well, a dialogue-heavy opening can reveal a lot about character(s).
Just so we’re clear, we’re not suggesting that you ax every bit of dialogue in your opening. The problem arises when an opening provides only dialogue to the exclusion of all other narrative elements.
We call this the “talking heads” opening. When two (or more) characters have a conversation for a page (or more), then readers receive no other vital story clues, such as setting, context, tone, background information, or the power dynamic between the characters doing the speaking
Interesting! Yes, I would think that would be hard to pull off. If anyone ever does pull it off, it seems to me it might be in a hard-boiled detective type of story. That’s not a genre I have ever read a lot, but it seems to me you often get a lot of short sentences and with a lot of dialogue, often with only a few dialogue tags. If anybody can think of a real-world example where someone pulled off this kind of talking-heads opening, let us know!
Now, if you pushed me to pick one element I think needs to be emphasized in the opening, I would go for setting almost more than anything else. The way the author handles the setting also establishes the tone, provides context, and generally contributes to characterization as well. Or so it seems to me. I always reach for Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly to illustrate a really good story beginning that sets the protagonist (and thus the reader) firmly in the world right from the first sentences. Also, that’s just a really good book!
Good cover, too: