Tuesday, January 8, 2008
"Taboo is a Polynesian word. It is difficult for us to find a translation for it, since the concept connoted by it is one which we no longer possess..." -- Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo
What is taboo? Well, Webster's defines it as, "1.proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable: taboo words."
For example, one could open with a definition.
During our time in the publishing industry, we've noticed that appeals to the dictionary rarely make it to print. We're told to kill them on sight, and we don't believe we're the only ones who follow those orders.
Why are they taboo? We're not quite sure, but we're very sure that we don't like them. For one, we're not paying authors for Mr. Webster's thoughts; we're paying for their thoughts, because our readers probably already know Mr. Webster's thoughts, or have easy access to them.
It also signals authorial laziness. Couldn't they think of something more creative than copying from the dictionary? And the dictionary's boring, too. Whoever read the dictionary at length for pleasure? Would you pay someone to read it for you? Of course not.
Prefacing with quotes is generally unwelcome, too. We never even read 'em--why should we concern ourselves over how it relates to the article? We don't even know whether the article is worth our time yet!
We also recommend authors avoid asking their readers a direct question. There's nothing wrong with subtly arousing their curiosity, and hence interest, but don't open with an interrogation.
Poor openings indicate a half-witted attempt at creativity, of course one can employ these three and other cliches creatively, but most of the time they serve little purpose.