Should you open with dialog or not, that is the question

If you must, keep it short and sweet.

Has it been done? Of course! Does that mean we should try it? That’s a loaded question.

The first line is how we, the writers, introduce our story to the reader. It’s how we shake hands, say hello, howdy, nice to meet you or whatever greeting we choose to grab the reader’s attention.

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The first line can’t be wasted words.

When a story is opened with dialog, will the reader know who is speaking? If not, the author must backtrack, and pretty quick, to show who is talking and why. This can become confusing fast.

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I’m not sure that I’m that talented of a writer.

If using dialog to open a story, it must reveal the character, and support, highlight or assist action. The dialog can be captivating, and attention grabbing, but it cannot be just for the sake of conversation. Just like any opening line, it must hook the reader and propel the story.

The reader is then thrown into a whirlwind of turbulence trying to figure out whose on first, doing what. You risk losing them before you can ground them in the story.

There are right and wrong ways to use dialogue to start your story. Merideth Storms give several tips on how to make sure the dialog serves to reveal the plot and move the story forward. Click and read her post: 

Using Dialogue to Start a Short Story, a Creative Writing Technique by Merideth Storms

Everyone has heard not to start a story with a dream, staring into a mirror and yes opening with dialog. But now we know all “rules” are not steadfast when bent or broken by writers who know how to use them. There is another “no-no rule” I’d not heard about. 

Too little dialog in the opening paragraphs. This can signal to an editor the story is might be boring, filled with more telling than action. Read more from Courtney Carpenter: 

5 Wrong Ways to Start A Story By:

More tomorrow on a stories first words

You can find me on Twitter @jeancogdell, Facebook at jean.cogdell and Amazon.com, stop by and say hey! Please remember to with a click and share this post with your Twitter peeps and Facebook fans.

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5 thoughts on “Should you open with dialog or not, that is the question

  1. At a recent conference I attended, agents critiquing first pages specifically advised against opening with dialogue for exactly the reasons you state! The practice risks starting readers out in limbo. Another piece of advice that resonated from that conference: start with conflict, not action. That first page is key. Thanks for raising an important point!

    Liked by 1 person

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