I’ve often claimed that I can tell if I’ll accept or reject a story at Theme of Absence as early as the first sentence. Mind you, I don’t actually make that decision until I finish the piece (if flash fiction) or read at least of third of it (if a longer piece). But still, in most cases, when I make the decision to accept or reject a submission, I already had a pretty good idea of what that decision would be.
So here are a few of the things I see in the first sentence of some of the pieces I reject.
The word was
This one, I’ll admit, bothers me so much because I used to do it all the time. Maybe that’s what makes it so noticeable to me. Either way, I now cringe whenever I see that word pop up in the opening sentence of a story. Sure, it’s not necessarily a bad word, but it’s often an indicator of a telling narrative. “Henry was slurping his soup when the doorbell rang.”
An ambiguous narrator (unless it stays that way throughout the story)
Here’s another on that really bugs me. I want to know who I’m reading about right away, not two paragraphs down. Now, there are exceptions if that’s the type of narrative you’re writing, but if you began with “The girl saw a blimp crashing into a mountain,” but don’t tell us anything about the girl until later, why on earth should we care about her? I’m not claiming I need her life’s story or anything, but a name would be a nice start.
More than one (or maybe two) adjectives
“The cat with the short black fur strolled down the unlit, lonely alley in the dark night.” Okay, so that’s the best bad example I could conjure up. But you get the point. Somehow a portion of writers have decided that descriptive writing is synonymous with throwing in a million adjectives. When an opening line is full of them, it can be detracting and even appear amateurish.
More than zero adverbs
Adverbs are kind of like gluten. Everybody hates them, but not everyone knows why we hate them. In the case of adverbs, especially the dreaded -ly ones, they just seem lazy to me in fiction. If a helper-verb is needed, then your verb is too weak. Find another way to say it. Adverbs are also a sign of too much telling. Don’t tell me he said something loudly. Show him yelling instead.
A passive voice
To me, using a passive voice is just an ineffective way to tell a story. And nine times out of ten, if an author begins a story with a passive voice, the rest of the story will be littered with it as well. Don’t ever writing something like this -> “The paper was crumbed up by Jake after it was read.”
And that does. If I see one of those five types of sentences in the opening paragraph of a submission, the chances of typing a rejection letter are fairly high. Remember that, whether you submit to Theme of Absence or anywhere else. And if you are submitting fiction, I wish you the best!
What you think? Am I too down on adverbs? Is the use of passive voice acceptable in some circumstances? Leave a comment and let us know!