Rule: Don't Start Your Story With the Weather!!
Broken in: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive. Cars that were usually gleaming stood dusty in their drives and lawns that were emerald green lay parched and yellowing; the use of hosepipes had been banned due to drought. Deprived of their usual car-washing and lawn-mowing pursuits, the inhabitants of Privet Drive had retreated into the shade of their cool houses, windows thrown wide in the hope of tempting in a nonexistent breeze. The only person left outdoors was a teenage boy who was lying flat on his back in a flower bed outside number four.Why it works: Aside from the fact that this is J.K. Rowling who we're talking about, the references to the weather are intermingled with other excellent descriptions of parched lawns and the like. What's more, Rowling makes the outdoors sound so unappealing that you instantly wonder why anyone - including Harry - would bother staying outside in such heat. She also manages to let the misery of the intro reflect the misery that's to come in the rest of the book. This definitely isn't a perfect execution of the weather-as-opener, but in general it does what weather openers need to do - have a character interact somehow with the weather.
Rule: Don't start your story with dialogue!!
Broken in: Don't Let's Go to The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
Mum says, "Don't come creeping into our room at night."
They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs.
She says, "Don't startle us when we're sleeping."
"We might shoot you."
"Okay." As it is, there seems a good enough chance of getting shot on purpose. "Okay, I won't."Why it works: The reason you may have heard people say not to start with dialogue is because there's no context. It's hard to establish who is talking (narrating), where they are, or what their situation is if you open with just dialogue. But here, even though I didn't give you the next line (which is brilliant, but it mentions spiders, which I don't talk about on this blog), you know that the narrator is a child, probably living somewhere rural or lawless, and the voice is fabulous. Don't you want to keep reading? I do.
Rule: Don't start with your MC falling asleep or waking up!!
Broken in: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course she did. This is the day of the reaping.Why it works: Mostly because The Hunger Games brings the awesome. It's really the last sentence of that paragraph that works, and knowing that Prim had bad dreams. What's going to happen today that would cause bad dreams? I want to know, so I keep reading. (For two days straight, right through two books, bringing them with me to meals and the movies and thoroughly irritating my husband...until he gets the sense to read it, too. Now we're arguing over who gets to read our copy of Mockingjay first when it comes in.)
Can you think of any examples of writing rules that were broken well? (Or not well?) Share them in the comments!