I was reading blogs the other morning and came across a list of the “Five Top Tough Sells” according to one of the editors on ElectricSpec. The original post can be found at: http://electricspec.blogspot.com/2011/03/top-five-tough-sells.html
The Five Top Tough Sells according to this editor were things in the writing that will almost always mean that the story will be rejected. They included the following things:
1. Stories that do not introduce the protagonist quickly.
2. Stories that are almost all dialogue.
3. Stories with too many author created world-specific idioms in the first few sentences.
4. False suspense. An example that was given was…”Everything was fine until he came along.”
5. Stories that begin with the protagonist waking up (bad) in bed (worse) from a horrible nightmare (worst).
I think the editor from Electric Spec wasn’t saying totally don’t do any of these. They were saying that they are a harder sell because they aren’t always done well or with purpose. I think the way to look at these lists is to look at why stuff ends up on them and then be more thoughtful about how one is using the writing. I think if you have thoroughly examined the list and understand why something is on it then you can avoid the pitfalls of why that particular thing often doesn’t work– then if you still have good reason to use it by all means do so.
It is always easy to find “violations” of these advice lists in good, already published fiction by experienced authors, that to me does not mean that the lists should not be thought through.
For instance I have seen on different advice lists that one should not start with descriptions of setting, but then there is Perdido Street Station. It starts with setting. Not an info dump, but still it starts with describing the setting. The title of the book itself gives great clue that perhaps starting with the setting is a good move and that this strengthens the overall integrity of the book.
Another piece of advice that I have seen on lists like this is to not start by describing the weather, but Neuromancer does just that.
The point that I am trying to make here is not to simply throw out every thing that anybody says by way of advice, but to really think about the craft of writing and how to achieve writing a great story. I think these “advice lists” are not commandments, I think they are clues. Clues to consider what might make the fiction stronger.