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Improve any novel by changing its second line to “And then the murders began”

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Store
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Store

Elmore Leonard’s famous rules for writers start with, “Never open a book with weather.” The second rule is, “Avoid prologues.” Leonard disdained scene-setting like this, urging authors instead to get into the propulsive, forward-moving action, and to provide any necessary backstory more actively, and less like homework. Last week, the author Marc Laidlaw offered a suggestion that take Leonard’s advice one step further:

While Laidlaw is mostly tossing this out as a parlor game, it’s amazing how much sharper and more evocative the resulting first lines appeared when contrasted by the threat of a shadowy serial killer conspiracy.

It works uniquely well with children’s stories.

It’s not universally applicable, of course, generally requiring an omniscient third-person narrator. The sudden introduction of murder provides a contrast with tone-setting exposition or an unexpected development to its more direct action. If recent superhero movies provide any context, everything is better with an R rating, so perhaps the same is true in literature.

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