The heroine is grumpy. Her cab driver is paying too much attention to the weird birthmark on her wrist although anyone who has seen it does the same thing so she should be used to it. She is grumpy about this for several pages. She gets out of the cab and spends several more pages thinking about how miserable the hot weather is, and how stinky her arm pits are now becoming.
After finally paying attention to her location, an office building, she acknowledges to herself how stressed she is with little specifics for several more pages, then how she dreads seeing Mark for several more pages.
She really misses her dead mom for about five pages. Then she walks into the building. Then another eight pages of minor info dump backstory about how her mom worked here, and how she really, really misses her mom. Mark, Mom’s boss, shows up and apologizes that she must deal with being at her mom’s place of business. She weeps on his chest for another bunch of pages. We are now a long chapter into the book and nothing of real importance has happened.
But we know that the heroine who is supposed to be a kickass heroine in this urban fantasy is an emotional mess about bloody everything from the weather to her mom’s death. We also know that the writer doesn’t know spit about pacing and how to intersperse emotion with action.
Readers, at this point, are stuck in the emo dump of horror where everything is too, too much to deal with.
At this realization, most readers will decide that they don’t care to spend hours of their lives with this mopey, poorly written mess, and they won’t go forward with the book.
Sadly, this opening is from a book I just tossed after the first chapter, and it’s the third one with an opening emo dump in the last few weeks.
And, yes, I know losing your mom is hard. I’ve been through it, and I sympathize, but dumping loss across many opening pages like so much emotional sludge is poor writing. It’s the equivalent for the reader of being forced to read a hormonal teen’s diary about how horrible and dramatic her life is. A mother’s death and stinky armpits have the same level of drama.
Emotion, like information, needs to be given in little bits and pieces, particularly at the beginning of the story. It also should be inferred by what the character does. That heroine could have felt a tightness in her chest as she entered the building, straightened her spine, and forced herself forward. The mother’s boss could have mentioned the mother’s death, and the heroine could have lost it for a few minutes. All this is shown in action, not by a long inner monologue about being really, really sad. It also makes the heroine appear strong despite her pain, and the reader would have sympathized instead of wishing that the drama queen heroine get a grip and move the story forward.
We want our readers to connect with our main character, sympathize with her, and admire her a little in that opening scene. We don’t want them to take one look at a weeping drama queen and run far, far away.