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:

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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.

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It works uniquely well with children’s stories.

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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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