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  1. Alex A.
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    Alex A. Member

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    starting off with the weather

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Alex A., May 2, 2011.

    I am just wondering why people say that you should never start a story out by describing the weather. It sets up the scene if its outside. What's the problem with it?

    Please enlighten me.
     
  2. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have heard that too, but im not sure why. Maybe because it's kind of a cliche? maybe it's the same reason why you shouldnt introduce a character by letting him look at his own reflection in the mirror and decribe what he looks like?
     
  3. Alex A.
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    Alex A. Member

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    Never heard of the looking into a mirror one before, nor have I ever read that ever happening.
     
  4. Show
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    Never do this, never do that, find countless authors who do just that. It's a vicious cycle. Maybe we should stop looking over our shoulders for one of these unwritten "rules" and just write the story. lol
     
  5. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    i guess so. In the end stuff is called cliche for a reason. (many people have used these ideas, so maybe they work!) ;) but i can imagine why people would say there are better ways to open a novel. weather is static, nothing actually happens and it's better to start with action, someone doing something. something that hooks the reader a little better than a weather report does.
     
  6. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    I actually started my only published fiction book with a discussion about using weather to start a story. :p So I guess I side-stepped that issue a little at least.
     
  7. Show
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    Eh, if the action creeps up quickly enough, a line of weather setting doesn't seem so bad to me. I've never found just coming into the middle of somebody doing something all that hooky. Maybe that's just my preferences, IDK.
     
  8. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    This is one of those rules that I think is extremely black and white if you want other people to read your novel. If you are writing it just for you, than it doesn't matter.

    Don't start novels with any sort of description. Descriptions are boring and readers tend to tune them out when they are longer than five sentences.

    The goal in the beginning of a novel is to hook the reader and make them feel like they NEED to read this book to find out what happens next, which usually means starting out your novel with either an event or an action.

    A book that starts out with (actual beginning of novel) . . . . . .

    "I read the newspaper this morning to find out that I was dead."

    Is much more interesting because it makes them wonder immediately why this event took place and want to know more than a book that starts with . . . .

    "The sky was blue and sunny."

    Yea, who cares? Why am I supposed to be caring about the weather? Nothing's going on already and the more sentences that go by without action in a novel and without hooking the reader, the more and more readers you lose.
     
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  9. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think, a discussion about the weather or a description of someone looking in the mirror is hardly a hook.
     
  10. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess you are right, I was just trying to come up with a possible reason for people to say that. :) as long as the writer doesn't concentrate too much on the setting right in the first couple of paragraphs (and forgetting there is a story waiting to be told) I don't see any harm either.
     
  11. Show
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    Make the weather really dull. xD Well, I wouldn't read either based on those sentences alone. Finding out you're dead by reading the newspaper? Yeah, well sorry dude. xD Moving on with my dad. That's kind of my reaction to that line. Anything out of context can seem dull, especially oversimplified stuff.

    I think an interesting setting exposition that can create an atmosphere that I can picture can be more of a 'hook' than a contrived action scene involving characters I have absolutely no connection to. Maybe throw in the latter after the former so at least I feel like this horrible thing is happening in a place I can picture, and maybe even relate to. And sometimes the weather can be a good source for conflict at least of a minor kind. Not all weather is a "blue and sunny sky." Sometimes the weather is perfectly relevant to what's going on, and in those cases, I don't see it as this big turnoff if it's not taking up more than it's necessary space.
     
  12. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    It's a hook if it's relevant.

    The 'don't start with weather' mantra, like all mantras, is well meaning, but usually meaningless in the void of context under which such advice is given. What happens is tons (trust me, tons) of working, student/aspiring writer manuscripts start out irrelevant, very often irrelevantly about weather, talking about leaves and temperatures and all sorts of things. It's not the weather that's what's wrong with it, but that often it's irrelevant.

    But, to tie in with my first sentence here, a hook doesn't depend on its subject, but it's relevant. If your story is about a family who survives a tornado, and your story starts with weather, I'm thinking that's probably okay.
     
  13. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Arrgghh, you are right, again! :D :rolleyes:
    (Plus that was a good example of relevance)
     
  14. Melzaar the Almighty
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    I can't honestly remember what my opening was any more, but the novel I finished recently was completely about clouds from start to finish. :p *goes to see what I wrote*

    Oh, yup, it was about the weather. He he. It wasn't before, but it was actually worse. :p And the second sentence is a hook anyway.

    When your main character is a cloud it's kinda hard not to :p

    But yeah, normal circumstances, always go with something relevant to the story.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto what pops had to say... if it's a good hook, use it... if not, don't!
     
  16. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Heh, sorry, I don't like reviewing people's forum comments, but sometimes they're misguided enough I feel it's important to present a counter perspective.

    In this case, your comments seem to be little more than a repeat of generalized 'conventional wisdom' that gets tossed around online by people who many not really know what they're talking about, despite being well meaning.

    Never start with description? Eh, really? If your story is good, then it'll contain a lot of descriptions, thus, by your logic, boring readers the better your story is?

    You're right, the goal at the start of a story is to hook a reader, but limiting it to some vague notion of 'event' or 'action' is one of those things that sounds good, because it's kinda true enough nobody will argue, but in reality is only as good as it is vague.

    I mean, what happens if weather is an event in your story, or weather is made an action?!

    And the mistake many aspiring writers make is to over correct, as you've done, so instead of starting with your example of weather (which is more a victim of painfully banal and generalized writing, not it's subject), a writer will start with some statement like your other first line, that whether it's a real-life example, is problematic and in my opinion not very good in a contemporary marketplace, depending on genre.

    Why? Because it's potentially not even the start of a story, really. It's more like a summarized premise statement, and in the hands of many writers, could end up being an ineffective story-start (it may be a great story, of course, too, but just pointing out how it's problematic to be so dogmatic).

    A lot of writers try this 'you gotta hook them' theory by doing such statements as described above, to the point of even having awkward questions: What would happen if two people ended up with the same soul? Ummm, yeah, interesting premise, now where's your story. Or they'll make some movie-trailer type of statement: Sometimes, the things that go bump in the night also go bump in your bed.

    In these types of situations the aspiring writer is doing all the things they read to do on some forum or blog, and still failing to create a compelling story opening. I could see both your examples leading to disastrous story openings, and actually, the newspaper-dead one especially, as where do you go from there and why isn't this seemingly monumental event not part of an opening story ARC instead of just seeming like a 'look at me, look at me' sort of misguided 'need to hook the reader' sort of statement.

    If I'm reading slush piles, the start about weather at least lets me know the writer is dealing with a specific time and place, where the other one raises tons of red flags that the writer has read blogs, is trying to do what they think is 'right' and 'good' and it's already an uphill battle that's been created. And trust me, sometimes seeming to be actively trying to be really clever just brings attention to you, the writer, and away from the story, and there better be a really amazing story to follow, and not the typical "I read in the newspaper I was dead" then a new paragraph "It all started four years ago" which will make me stop reading.

    And not meaning to pick on you, mostly just pointing out that following mantras and adages is a rookie mistake that sounds good in theory, but in actual application quickly becomes irrelevant.
     
  17. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    Hey popsicle death, why not actually read what I wrote? I said basically what you said before you said it because obviously a family experiencing a tornado is an event and I said that stories should start with events or actions and not description. Point out where in my post I actually said the words "never start with whether", I said "never start with description." I worded it that way for a reason. That's the rule I follow and the important part of my post. Descriptions about weather still are boring even under that rule. I just worded it differently than you did. Because even though it wasn't asked, I was including character descriptions and other descriptions in my rule.

    And saying that people mess it up anyway even under that rule doesn't actually prove that it's a bad rule to follow. It only proves it if you give examples of people disobeying that rule and still hooking the reader. Like describing the weather and still hooking the reader for instance.

    And okay, you guys hate my example. Fine. But if this is done well, is it still bad?
     
  18. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    No, the point is doing things well rarely has anything to do with any of the vague, prescriptive so called 'rules' that are really only tossed around by aspiring or student writers who don't know much better.

    Writers who do things well, don't usually follow limited, prescriptive little rules. Sure, when asked and pressed they sometimes come up with some rules, which is why they're usually descriptive, not prescriptive. Descriptive rules don't help you write well, they only help you describe things that others have written. Sure, this is great, until you're trying to write, following all the rules, and rut-roh, your manuscript still sucks.

    And yes, I realize that many 'how to be a famous writer in a day' books on writing are filled with just such rules, but keep in mind they aren't actually trying to teach you how to write, so much as how to buy their books.

    So sorry, it's not personal or anything, it's just that your post, despite sounding super great and logical, wasn't actually anything but a bunch of re-hashed, over-generalized rules with bias examples with the intent of proving you're right, not proving your so-called rule has any merit or grounds when it comes to producing quality fiction.

    But really, it's not personal, sometimes opinions are just lacking and uninformed. It's okay, we've all done it at some point or another, and the appropriate response is usually not to accuse others of not reading.
     
  19. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    I accused you of not reading because you were saying I said things that I didn't say and don't like words put into my mouth.

    As for the rest, I can see what you are saying, but I tend to go with the experts in a field and the advice they give because they actually know what they are doing. You can still mess up even following their advice, but novices who call experts in a field wrong usually don't know what they are talking about. And you are saying that all the experts are wrong.
     
  20. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Really? Who are these so called experts? And they ALL say the exact same thing? Were they teachers, or just best-selling, famous, or neither of those and being paid to write an article or how-to book?

    And you make my exact point. It seems you read some bit of advice and parroted it without much thought or experience as to how, or even if, the so-called rule is relevant or useful.

    And as I pointed out, sure, they all sound good. Just like if you're asking for life advice I can say 'don't fall into holes you can't climb out of', which is great, but, ummm, how does that help you avoid falling into holes?

    So again, no, the advice to 'start with an event or action' isn't wrong, it's just not very instructive, prescriptive or even helpful, as starting with an irrelevant action or event isn't going to be a good hook, and starting out with a description may be perfectly engaging and compelling and get a story rolling if it's relevant.

    The only writing rule I subscribe to is "after learning a writing rule, don't make the mistake of thinking you actually learned something."
     
  21. Smoke
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    Wiping the rain from one's hair is fine. Is character reacting to the weather, even through a window, less of a cliche?
     
  22. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    Of course they don't all say the same thing (which is an example of you again putting words in my mouth), which is why it's extremely strange that you said they are all wrong. You actually went way beyond talking about this one rule about weather here and said all those books written by anybody with rules in them are useless. So the only thing I'm really defending is the fact that some of them are right and that you can actually learn things from reading them.

    Part of writing good is practicing. You can't read how to book after how to book about writing and then know everything there is to it, but to say, as you are saying, that you learn nothing from them, is ridiculous. I'm definitely a better writer because I've learned rules such as to show and not tell and I learn how to follow that rule better by practicing it.

    Like I said, I agree reading those rules can't teach you everything, but to say they are worthless and help with nothing is rather ridiculous.

    And mostly, I was talking about, by experts, anyone who's in the actual publishing business and successful at it, be they editor, agent, publisher, or writer. I should have been clear on that issue. Or anyone who is educated on the subject. And remember "successful" is a relative term that can apply to a lot of different things and not just monetary success.

    EDIT: And I am not an expert, which is why it's good for me to quote them because then my point is more legitimate. But I do have experience with writing. I write every day, so it's not fair to accuse me of otherwise.

    I just think its really ridiculous because until you quoted me and said my whole post was wrong, I was about to quote your first post and say,"Yea, I agree, that's what I was trying to say." And then I find you specifically quoting me later and disagreeing for no reason at all with everything I said.
     
  23. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Eh, I dunno, the character standing at the rainy window looking out, thinking about things, sounds pretty cliche to me. Then again, cliches can work when they're relevant, as people do stand at windows and think about things, ya know.
     
  24. Still Life
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    Still Life Active Member

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    [From a reader's standpoint, and not as a fellow aspiring writer.]

    About setting up a scene with weather (if it's going to be long)... as a reader, I will only subject myself to that sort of masochistic torture if I know this author is genius, and I love him/her no matter what. Even when I'm screwed, my early alzheimers will kick in, and I'll be eagerly awaiting the next book anyway. If you're an unpublished writer, and I haven't read anything you've written before, I might not be so forgiving. If you're going to do it, make it short and sweet. And if you're going to throw caution to the wind and make it as long as a Sunday sermon, then you'd better be entertaining.
     
  25. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    To sidestep the debate; it just seems to me that a statement that tells you not to open with the weather is really just telling you to avoid getting too wrapped up in the descriptions. To me, the 'weather' comment is really indicative of telling a writer to make sure they focus on the reason the reader is reading. Why should they continue...

    I've read many things that I haven't reviewed because of this. I want to know what's going on that would compel me to read further. Weather, per se, would not do that.
     
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