Agent Pet Peeves: While Your Mileage May Vary
Over at the Guide to Literary Agents, a blogger identifying himself as Chuck shares a list of agent pet peeves regarding manuscript submissions. Some of these are a real hoot, such as Stephany Evans' (FinePrint Literary Management) contempt for Isabelles who call themselves Izzy. (Maybe this agent had a mean older sister by that name? Or read three horrible submissions in a row where Izzys featured prominently.) But others are a lot more helpful, as well as indicative of problems I see all the time when critiquing or judging unpublished work.
Some of the biggies:
1. Static openings, where the character is sitting around (or brewing tea or doing some other mundane task) while thinking about how he/she came to be in this predicament. Yawn!
2. Long, dull prologues.
3. Attempts at "cuteness" that fall waaaay short. Or have been done so many times they give the reader a sick feeling.
4. Done-to-death openings such as description of weather, funerals, and dream sequences.
5. Books that begin in the wrong place.
6. Clunky, ungrammatical, or error-pocked writing.
7. Homogenized voice. In other words, the story sounds as if it were constructed carefully, by committee, in accordance to some rulebook, instead of by an individual with something fresh and new to bring to the world of storytelling.
But here's the caveat. A truly gifted writer can make readers forget their pet peeves, or take a cliched set-up or image and turn it on its ear with a fresh, new twist. There are some writers who can quickly set the reader at ease, convincing her she's in the hands of a real master. Afterwards, she can go ahead and break all the rules and trample all the pet peeves that she likes.
So do you have any first chapter pet peeves to share? Or can you name an author who very quickly earned your trust with her opening? Feel free to share a terrific opening line if you identify title and author.