• Basic Writing questions is not a crit forum. All crits belong in Share Your Work

Opening with Dialogue

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Status
Not open for further replies.

scifi_writer

@scifi_writer
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 28, 2013
Messages
125
Reaction score
1
Website
meshnovel.wordpress.com
Sorry if this has been tackled previously (new here), but what are people's thoughts on opening a chapter with dialogue. I find that it can be very engaging when done in moderation, but have seen a lot of views to the contrary. Thoughts?

Dave
@scifi_writer
 

Fruitbat

.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 15, 2010
Messages
11,853
Reaction score
1,311
I've heard it stated as a "rule" to never open with dialogue, but I've seen it done plenty, too. My feeling is, if it works, it works.

I would probably not start with dialogue that didn't have a tag that made it clear who was speaking, though. That leaves the reader coming into a new chapter so not sure what's going on anyway, and then being further lost for a bit while they have to sort out who is speaking.
 

WriteMinded

Derailed
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 16, 2010
Messages
6,103
Reaction score
673
Location
Paradise Lost
There are contrary views expressed on every topic. I thought this particular complaint was about starting a novel with dialogue. Well damn, I'm in more trouble than I thought. The problem is that the reader doesn't know the person who is talking, or where they are, or WTF is going on. Words in a void are not very engaging.

Having said that, one of my books begins Chapter 1 with dialogue. My WIP contains several mid-book chapters that start with dialogue, but by then the MCs are well-known and the setting is well-established.
 

suzie

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 8, 2011
Messages
156
Reaction score
9
Location
Northwest England/France
I've never heard of this rule and often begin a chapter with dialogue. I've even started chapter one with dialogue. My publisher didn't query this in my latest release, although it is written in first person which I suppose could make all the difference x
 

benbenberi

practical experience, FTW
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 7, 2012
Messages
2,516
Reaction score
351
Location
Connecticut
The problem in opening with dialogue is that you risk having an unanchored conversation between disembodied voices. It's nearly always important to establish some of the basics of the scene for readers - where are we? who's there? what's going on? A cold opening with only dialogue makes that more of a challenge than it is with narrative. It can be done, and done well. But the reason for the "rule" is that it's usually not.
 

StaircaseInTheDark

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 29, 2013
Messages
115
Reaction score
2
Location
England
If it was just a line or two of dialogue, then a description or explanation of where the characters are and what's happening, I wouldn't see a problem with it. But a full conversation or a good part of one, before getting onto the other stuff, would be confusing and could be annoying. But I've never heard of a rule saying you shouldn't open with dialogue full stop.
 

SharonPartington

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 18, 2013
Messages
146
Reaction score
2
Location
Edmonton Alberta Canada
I've written a short story that opens with dialogue and it works, but as StaircaseInTheDark points out, it's followed by a description of where the characters are, and what's happening. I can see how, if it's done properly, it could make for an interesting beginning, but it also has the potential to be very confusing to readers.

I guess it depends on the amount of dialogue, and what that dialogue reveals about the plot. Plot points can sound very contrived if they're revealed during character conversations.
 

Jamesaritchie

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 13, 2005
Messages
27,863
Reaction score
2,306
I've heard many say that opening the first chapter with dialogue is not a good idea, but I've never head it applied to later chapters.

I think opening chapter one with dialogue is risky, and if you do so, the dialogue had better be good, interesting, and probably from or about the main character.

But when done right, it works as well as any other opening.
 

AddiG

Dumb blonde :)
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 11, 2013
Messages
141
Reaction score
10
I've done it plenty of times (I know that doesn't make it right necessarily). I think it can be interesting when used wisely. The dialogue must be gripping though.
 

Bufty

Where have the last ten years gone?
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 9, 2005
Messages
16,763
Reaction score
4,642
Location
Scotland
'Nuff said?

I wonder if that opening line would be quoted so much had the novel that followed it been rubbish.

I see nothing wrong with opening with dialogue provided the dialogue content contributes to the image of a setting or character or something.

To my eye, the problem with most beginners' using dialogue as an opening is that before he writes the first line of dialogue the writer knows who is saying it, where, how, why, when and to whom, but after having read it the reader has no clue.

"Call me Ishmael."

'Nuff said.

Jeff
 

Mr Flibble

They've been very bad, Mr Flibble
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 6, 2008
Messages
18,889
Reaction score
5,028
Location
We couldn't possibly do that. Who'd clear up the m
Website
francisknightbooks.co.uk
Plenty of novels start with dialogue (Ender's Game even has a protracted bit of unattributed dialogue IIRC) One of my faves (there is a prologue of sorts, but the first line of chapter one) is 'I'm going to get that bloody bastard if I die in the attempt!', which just makes me want to find out how and why.... As in that example, more usually it's followed up by some grounding. The problem can be that it has no context (then again, neither does any first line, really!), so you need to give it some.

So, be aware of that problem of context and grounding and write accordingly (even if it means you don;t use the grounding straight away -- some dialogue will ground for you).
 

Mr Mitchell

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 12, 2012
Messages
646
Reaction score
17
Location
Wokingham
I wouldn't start with dialogue as I rather start the story weather it's a short one or a novel with a bit of action, or just get a character doing something so I could get the reader hooked.

There is nothing worse with it, of course, but it's not my cup of tea.

But when a writer does it well then it works but most of the books I read has always started with a character who is doing some sort of action.
 

DanielaTorre

...
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 17, 2011
Messages
1,427
Reaction score
212
Location
BFE
I think it works in moderation, especially when the previous chapter ended with a cliffhanger. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it. I don't understand who would make that rule up. I mean, who exactly made the rules on how to open a chapter and what makes them an authority on the matter?

I would love to me this "they" person and give 'em a piece of my mind.
 

Roxxsmom

Beastly Fido
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 24, 2011
Messages
20,257
Reaction score
4,183
Location
Where faults collide
Website
doggedlywriting.blogspot.com
I think like most other general advice, it's really there to make you examine what you've written with a dispassionate eye to see whether it works. Like some others have said, if the dialog is attributed and grounded, or if it is engaging enough to pull people in, then it often works just fine. Plenty of examples of novels that do this.
 

BethS

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 21, 2005
Messages
11,708
Reaction score
1,752
Sorry if this has been tackled previously (new here), but what are people's thoughts on opening a chapter with dialogue. I find that it can be very engaging when done in moderation, but have seen a lot of views to the contrary. Thoughts?

The rule--well, guideline--is to be careful about opening with unattributed dialogue: an orphaned line of speech that gives no indication of who is speaking and to whom. (And of course there can be exceptions to this. Just look at Ender's Game.)

Certainly you can open with a dialogue scene. Just make it clear and intriguing. No mundane stuff.
 

Roxxsmom

Beastly Fido
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 24, 2011
Messages
20,257
Reaction score
4,183
Location
Where faults collide
Website
doggedlywriting.blogspot.com
Certainly you can open with a dialogue scene. Just make it clear and intriguing. No mundane stuff.

I am envisioning a writing prompt here: two elderly people having a conversation about:

Their corns or other health problems
Gardening
Their grandchildren

Nobody does anything. Nobody goes anywhere. Make it interesting. Go!

As awful as this sounds, I bet there is someone who can. Probably wouldn't be me, though.
 

lolchemist

Shooting stars.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
1,334
Reaction score
181
Location
California
What's really the difference between starting a book with:

John ran through the woods, sweat dripping down his neck. He could still see the red haired girl in the distance.

And:

"Ashley!"John screamed, running through the woods as fast as he could to catch up to her.
"Leave me alone!" The red headed girl screamed back.


In either case we have no clue who John is but in both cases he's running through the woods, chasing a red headed girl. Each version has it's own merits and can be used to open a book, scene or chapter.
 

Bufty

Where have the last ten years gone?
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 9, 2005
Messages
16,763
Reaction score
4,642
Location
Scotland
Opening a chapter or scene with these examples might work because hopefully there would be continuity or context, but as opening lines to a book they're fairly mundane.

I presume these are hastily made up sentences :), but in the first example there's no fixed image to see other than someone running through woods with sweat dripping down their neck. It's difficult to imagine 'distance' in that scenario.

In the second example, the first 'her' is a loose pronoun, and repetitious exclamation marks and screaming don't help.

What's really the difference between starting a book with:

John ran through the woods, sweat dripping down his neck. He could still see the red haired girl in the distance.

And:

"Ashley!"John screamed, running through the woods as fast as he could to catch up to her.
"Leave me alone!" The red headed girl screamed back.


In either case we have no clue who John is but in both cases he's running through the woods, chasing a red headed girl. Each version has it's own merits and can be used to open a book, scene or chapter.
 

lolchemist

Shooting stars.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
1,334
Reaction score
181
Location
California
Opening a chapter or scene with these examples might work because hopefully there would be continuity or context, but as opening lines to a book they're fairly mundane.

I presume these are hastily made up sentences :), but in the first example there's no fixed image to see other than someone running through woods with sweat dripping down their neck. It's difficult to imagine 'distance' in that scenario.

In the second example, the first 'her' is a loose pronoun, and repetitious exclamation marks and screaming don't help.

I mean... do we really need to critique two scenarios I came up with in two seconds?
 

lolchemist

Shooting stars.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
1,334
Reaction score
181
Location
California
I know you mean well and everything but stuff like this makes me feel like I can't ever post any examples to help fellow members out without fear of someone jumping in and judging my work based on something I spent literally less than a minute on. The whole point of the hasty example was just supposed to be that in either case, the writer managed to convey the message that John is chasing a red haired girl through the woods. The critique about the screaming and the exclamation points and the loose pronoun does nothing but to just embarrass me and make me feel bad and defensive. This isn't SYW, you know what I mean? Real first sentences sometimes take writers months to perfect. It's unfair to hold my hasty example up to that standard.
 

Bufty

Where have the last ten years gone?
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 9, 2005
Messages
16,763
Reaction score
4,642
Location
Scotland
Trust me, nobody is going to judge you, or anyone else, in any way based upon random sentences posted here, lolchemmist. :Hug2:

It's those particular sentences that are being commented upon- not you or your work.

There's no rush to post sentences here to help fellow members out. The desire to help our fellow scribes is admirable, but it's also a good idea to take our time and post good sentences to illustrate our points.

I know you mean well and everything but stuff like this makes me feel like I can't ever post any examples to help fellow members out without fear of someone jumping in and judging my work based on something I spent literally less than a minute on. The whole point of the hasty example was just supposed to be that in either case, the writer managed to convey the message that John is chasing a red haired girl through the woods. The critique about the screaming and the exclamation points and the loose pronoun does nothing but to just embarrass me and make me feel bad and defensive. This isn't SYW, you know what I mean? Real first sentences sometimes take writers months to perfect. It's unfair to hold my hasty example up to that standard.
 

lolchemist

Shooting stars.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
1,334
Reaction score
181
Location
California
to take our time and post good sentences to illustrate our points.

My sentences might not be good enough for you but obviously they were good enough for me to suit this purpose. If OP doesn't get the point I was trying to make, that's something different and I can try to re-explain if they ask. But like I said, I'm really not appreciating the crit. I know you don't mean to and you're trying to be friendly but it's just really insulting. I didn't try to help this person so that people can tell me that my sentences are not good. Even if they really are the shittiest sentences you've seen in your whole life, this really isn't the right place or the right time. But like I said, I know for a fact that your intentions are good and you mean well and you're not trying to insult me or make me feel bad on purpose and I might possibly be overreacting and being a drama queen at 3:35am because cant sleep so ...:Hug2:back at ya.
 

StaircaseInTheDark

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 29, 2013
Messages
115
Reaction score
2
Location
England
I would view Lolchemist's example as an acceptable way to use dialogue in an opening, because, as I said before, it also explains what is happening in the scene. I would have no issues with a book that started in that manner. I would find it annoying if it was just the dialogue and the dialogue tags, but it sets the scene between the two lines, so you know what's happening. I would say be careful how you do it, but that it's not inherently bad.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Happy Thanksgiving

Autumn image for Thanksgiving