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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, November 15, 2007

POWERFUL OPENINGS

By Dianna Love Snell

***WIN a critique of your first 5 pages that can be returned prior to the Golden Heart deadline if submitted the week of Thanksgiving. Everyone who comments is entered in the drawing.

Critique by RITA Award-winner Dianna Love Snell 

Could you convince an editor to read the rest of your story if all you could submit for now was your opening page in proper manuscript form? That’s about 150 words.

News flash…some editors and agents won’t read that far.

If you had their jobs you’d understand why. They see stacks of submissions so these professionals can size up a book very quickly. I know it sounds unfair, but that’s just reality. So don’t waste your time complaining, spend it creating a first page that will leave the editor wanting more.

Your don’t have to start with exploding buildings and car crashes for a powerful opening…unless that is the inciting incident and is truly part of your story. The word “powerful” can be interpreted a lot of ways, but in this context I like to think that an opening is powerful because it engages the reader.

Ah, the reader. You have to sell them on that same first page. The editor can read further in your story…for free. That reader has to lay down good money. Your story may get no more consideration than the time it takes a reader to scan the back cover blurb and the first page.

I tend to analyze something to see why it works or does not work. (Yes, I was that kid who took things apart to see how they worked. “g”) I’m going to give you some openings and show you why they work then we’ll write a sample opening and put it to the test.

There is no perfect opening and no one way to start a book. Any good story might be opened a couple different ways, but you need to find the one that best engages a reader and quickly conveys the tone of your book.

Here is a list of elements to consider for the opening:

1) POV character - why is it important to open in this character’s POV?
2) Why is the specific setting and time period of this opening significant?
3) What details are you going to share immediately about this character and do these details have to be shared now?
4) Is there a ticking clock or any sense of urgency?
5) Are there any details that can be removed that slow the opening?
6) What question will the opening create?
7) What is the tone of the story?

The key to a strong opening is not just figuring out what must be included, but also what does not belong. The most important thing to remember is that opening page is like a first impression – you only get one chance.

The opening page excites the reader about a trip they may want to take.
The opening five pages entices a reader to spend some time on the journey.
The opening chapter settles the reader into a plush seat and promises a great ride.

Your inciting incident can be a major action or simply an incident, but it must throw events into motion that are intriguing and have a direct bearing on the story. You can’t just toss someone into danger or set up a WOW moment then move into an unrelated or docile story. This is just sensationalism for a cheap hook if the story falls off right after the opening.

Always remember - You must follow through on the promise created by your first five pages and all of that is launched on page one.

Let’s take a look at some openings:


SHOW ME THE MONEY by Stephanie Feagan (Harlequin Bombshell)

Sitting in front of the senate finance committee was like sprinting down Dallas Central Expressway, naked. If I didn’t get run over and killed, I was bound to become the butt of everyone’s joke first thing in the morning when the newspapers came out.

Either way, I’d rather get a root canal, have lunch with Aunt Dru, who could bore God into a premature Armageddon, or remarry my lying, cheating mongrel of an ex-husband than face a row of senators bent on ferreting out the truth behind one of the worst accounting hoodwink jobs in history. Never mind that they got the first scent of blood from me.

Opening scene main character is UNKNOWN AT THIS POINT (NORMAL IN FIRST PERSON), but it is Pink and her significance to the story is THIS IS HER STORY.
The time period is contemporary and this is a SUSPENSE WITH ROMANTIC ELEMENTS.
Pink is currently sitting in a CONGRESSIONAL MEETING FACING SENATORS
This specific setting is important because the Senate meeting is the inciting incident that sets everything in motion in this story
Why are these details necessary right now and is there a ticking clock? These initial details tell us she’s in very deep trouble and that she may have made a huge mistake if she’d rather REMARRY HER MONGREL EX-HUSBAND THAN GO THROUGH THIS INQUISITION. The ticking clock is that she’s on the hot seat at a senate inquiry and they’ve JUST GOTTEN THE FIRST SCENT OF BLOOD from her so things may go downhill quickly.
Why do we care about this character or the future of this character? Hard not to care about a person who is sitting in her position and sweating bullets, plus the fact that we sympathize with a woman who has been married to a man who cheated on her.
Is there any unnecessary information that is slowing the opening? No
What question(s) will this opening create that will urge a reader to turn the page? Given the current climate on accounting scandals that make it to the senate, we wonder if she’s going to jail (emotional response)
What is the tone of the story? Tongue in cheek humor, some mystery

~*~

CHANGE ME INTO ZEUS’S DAUGHTER by Barbara Robinette Moss (literary memoir)

Mother spooned the poisoned corn and beans into her mouth, ravenously, eyes closed, hands shaking.

We, her seven children sat around the table watching her for signs of death, our eyes leaving her long enough to glance at the clock to see how far the hands had moved. Would she turn blue, like my oldest sister Alice said?

Alice sat hunched next to me in the same white kitchen chair, our identical homemade cotton dresses blending into one. She shoved my shoulder with hers as if I were disturbing her concentration and stared unblinking at Mother. Each time Mother hesitated, spoon in mid-air, Alice’s face clouded and she pushed against my shoulder.

“She’s dying,” Alice whispered, covering her mouth so Mother could not hear her. “I told you she was gonna die.”


***I love to include this opening in workshops, because this is a great example of a powerful opening that is not guns blazing. I write romantic action-suspense, but I read everything – if the author grabs my attention quickly.

Opening scene main character is THE AUTHOR BARBARA and her significance to
this story is that this is her life.
The story time period is 1960’s and genre is literary memoir. I don’t buy a lot of memoirs because most bore me to tears before I make the second page.
Barbara is currently a child SITTING AT THE KITCHEN TABLE WITH HER OTHER SIX SIBLINGS.

This specific setting is important because it underlines that these children are watching their mother eat poisoned food when they have no food in front of them. This setting shows a picture of desperation.

What details do we know about the character? She’s a child and she’s wearing an identical homemade cotton dress like her sisters.

Why are these details necessary right now and is there a ticking clock?
All the details in this opening build a sense of dread over her situation and the ticking clock is waiting for her mother to take the mouthful that may kill her.

Why do we care about this character or the future of this character? How can you NOT sympathize with a child wondering if she’s watching her parent about to die.

Is there any unnecessary information that is slowing the opening? No

What question(s) will this opening create that will urge a reader to turn the page? Will the mother die? What will these children do if she does? Why are they in this situation? (emotional response) Another question would be - Is this mother committing suicide?

In summary, the opening hook is the first line when the MOTHER SPOONS POISONED CORN AND BEANS INTO HER MOUTH IN FRONT OF HER CHILDREN. I bought the book on that opening alone.

What is the tone of the story? Heart wrenching

~*~

Here is an opening I made up for a workshop that we’ll analyze then rewrite to improve:

Deadly Encounter

Things were going to hell in a hand basket if this was as good as it got.

Eileen Bender swiped a hand across her sweaty brow then dried it on a nearby hand towel. She didn’t know which she hated more, wearing this stupid penquin outfit that didn’t have a feminine line anywhere or serving a yard full of snobs on a Saturday afternoon.

Stan Ledford’s dynasty was Houston’s real life answer to the Ewings of that old show Dallas. And the star of this bunch was the youngest Ledford, Vaughn. Eileen glanced at the crowd while loading up another tray of gourmet snacks. Her gaze stuttered on Vaughn who wore a white golf shirt that practically glowed against his tan. He was using someone’s walking cane as a makeshift golf club, leaned over, wiggled that hot butt of his and swung his shoulders in a wide arc. The muscles in his forearms cabled with the exertion.

Then he followed up with a big grin almost as bright as his shirt.

Eileen shook herself from ogling him and started walking through the crowd, smiling on cue and lowering her tray when anyone approached her. She had to finish this gig then change clothes in her car on the way to her next gig or she’d be late for the one she really cared about where she played solo on Friday nights at a local dive.

But in all honesty, people like Stan Ledford paid more money to watch her serve than anyone had ever paid to watch her play a guitar and sing.

My agent was on our workshop panel and did not know this was a made-up opening just to be used as a sacrificial critique lamb. She liked it, which was good because it doesn’t help you to see a really bad opening critiqued. We can all see problems in bad openings, but the key is figuring out the finer points and making a good opening much better.

Analysis of Deadly Encounter:

Opening scene main character is Eileen Bender and her significance to the story is she is a main character.
This story time period is contemporary and genre sounds like romance.
Eileen is currently serving appetizers to a garden party.
This specific setting is important because this places Eileen clearly below Vaughn’s social level.
What details do we know about the character? Eileen plays a guitar and sings, she works catering jobs she, but wants to do something else, she finds Vaughn attractive
Why are these details necessary right now? Other than for setting and to show us Vaughn through her eyes, these details have little meaning
Why do we care about this character or the future of this character? We don’t.
Is there any unnecessary information that is slowing the opening? Yes, we don’t need to know about the job at the dive, we don’t need to know about Vaughn’s golf swing, we don’t need to know that this family is the modern day Ewings
What question(s) will this opening create that will urge a reader to turn the page? None
In summary, the opening hook of this story is – missing
What is the tone of the story? Light hearted with possible romance
***Anyone catch the cliché in the opening line? Don’t start with those.

This could be the opening to a straight romance a mystery a romantic comedy, but there is no indication of any of those things. Just to show you that you can take any opening and improve it, after writing this first version I wondered what I would do if someone asked me to make this a hook opening.

Here’s the revised version as a mystery/suspense type of opening since that’s what I write -

DEADLY ENCOUNTERS – REVISED (with notes)

Life really sucked if getting noticed by a hot guy meant jail time.(stakes)

Eileen Bender forced a smile as she gripped her silver tray of gourmet snacks and rushed through the posh Houston crowd milling about the Ledford garden party. Her pseudo-undercover tactics (stalking) had just changed from intelligence gathering to retreat and evade. The catering group could fire her if they wanted. She’d only taken this job to find a thief…and a killer. If her identity was discovered, she’d face more than embarrassment.

Vaughn Ledford, the family prince and heir apparent, had made it clear in a news interview last week that if he caught another person stalking his family he’d prosecute to the full extent of the law.

The handsome business dynamo never glanced Eileen’s way while she was a temp at his father’s company. He wouldn’t know she even existed today, but Debra Drummond, the pain-in-the-butt head of accounting, would. What was that Southern fried witch doing here? The pretentious woman masked her evil streak with a poorly executed Gone With the Wind voice.

Eileen had to get out of here undetected (ticking clock) if she wanted to find the person who killed her uncle, a security guard for the Ledford foundation who died suspiciously during a theft that still carried headlines.

And Eileen had a letter that placed Prince Vaughn number one on her list of suspects. (more conflict)

“There you ahr,” called out in molasses voice from behind her.

Eileen froze, praying that accent belonged to someone else born in the south.

“Vaughn, you remember Eileen don’t you, Sugar?” (hook)


Okay, let’s put the second version to the test…

Opening scene main character is Eileen Bender and her significance to the story is she is a main character.
This story time period is contemporary and genre sounds like ROMANTIC SUSPENSE.
Eileen is currently trying to avoid being recognized at a garden party.
This specific setting is important because this places Eileen is trying to find clues on who might be tied to her uncle’s murder
What details do we know about the character? We know she’s loyal to the point of willing to risk jail to find out who killed her uncle, she’s a temporary office worker who was once employed by the man she’s now suspicious of who she finds attractive. She has a letter that implicates this man.
Why are these details necessary right now and is there a ticking clock? The details are important to give us a reason for Eileen to be at this party under false pretense and the immediate ticking clock is if she gets away undetected.
Why do we care about this character or the future of this character? We can identify with a woman who works as a temp at a large company who goes unnoticed and who may not have security of a steady job. We care about someone trying to find out why a loved one was killed. We’ve probably all met someone in life who has the evils streak of this Debra
Is there any unnecessary information that is slowing the opening? Not this time
What question(s) will this opening create that will urge a reader to turn the page? We wonder if Eileen will get away from the party before she’s recognized. We wonder if Vaughn is tied to her uncle’s murder. We wonder why her uncle was killed in a suspicious way and what was that suspicious way.
In summary, the opening hook of this story is – when Debra outs Eileen to Vaughn. We wonder what happens next.
What is the tone of the story? Suspenseful, maybe more light tone than edgy leading us to feel it will be romantic and fun

It bears repeating - there is no perfect opening. Use these tips to help you locate weak spots in an opening, but above all – write your story your way. Study the books in your genre – both the ones you liked and the ones you had a tough time finishing. Analyze what worked for you and what did not. But don’t polish the voice out of your story. Once you have the opening the way you like it, give that baby a ride and see what happens.  

Editors aren’t looking for perfectly written books. Yes, you have to make sure it’s clean and free of annoying typos, but an editor wants to read a story with voice that fascinates him/her.

Thanks for stopping in. You have until Friday at midnight to comment so you can be included in the drawing on Saturday. Come back Saturday to check for the winner posting. This article was adapted from the BREAK INTO FICTIONTM Template Teaching series created by Dianna Love Snell and Mary Buckham. For information on HOW TO PLOT YOUR BOOK IN 2 DAYS visit www.BreakIntoFiction.com.

Good luck to all of you entering the Golden Heart!

Dianna

32 Comments:

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12:20 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

(Let's try this again.)

Fascinating stuff, Dianna! I love the example from Stef's book. She has such a strong voice. (She's the Noodler who introduced us to the phrase, "I'm suckin' hind teat.") Oh, to grow up in Texas.

Here are two different openings to a book I wrote.

Opening 1

Most things that weigh five pounds aren’t scary. Bagged apples, paper sacks of flour, a set of sandstone coasters with sailboats on them… But Julio, my late mother’s Chihuahua, was genuinely frightening. It was the way his eyes bulged, the way spit glistened on his teeth when he growled, and the way he hated me -- hated me.

In Julio’s mind, cause and effect were very clear. I came to stay with his beloved mistress, and shortly afterward she died. My suffering made no impression on him.

Opening 2

I never set out to be a Tarot reader. I didn’t have a burning desire to tell people their husbands were unfaithful, their daughters might be doing drugs, and evil spirits had taken up residence in their kitchen drawers.

But my mother’s early death left me with bills to pay and an answering machine heavy with despairing messages from her clients. You see, my mother was a professional Tarot reader. I wasn’t, but I was about to play one in my own life – Julio saw to that.

Which would make you buy the book, if either?

 
At 12:52 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Dianna, wonderful post! Love the examples and the way you explain great openings. This will help a lot!

Esri, I like both of your openings. The first one is funny, but I am going to pick the second one as my favorite because I felt drawn to the heroine and right away I had sympathy for her (having to read tarot cards for a living when she really doesn't want to).

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Esri -

Thanks for the two openings. I love how your voice comes through in both, but have to tell you while the first one had fun and flavor, Number Two caught my attention right off the bat. I was instantly interested in why she had turned into a Tarot reader when she hadn't started out with that in mind. :)

I love the line that ends with "...evil spirits had taken up residence in their kitchen drawers." That's such a rich example of both your voice and the tone of the book.

Here's a very small suggestion for the last line:
[I wasn’t, but I was about to play one in my own life – Julio saw to that.]
I think you could up the curiosity factor and make the last sentence a little more active by maybe switching the words around (and hinting that Julio is a dog)to do something along the lines of -
-I wasn't, but that was before I met Julio. I ignored the little sucker until he bared his teeth at me.-
(He sounds like a person then we figure out he's an animal, and so on as your story keeps evolving).

Now - that isn't what YOU will write because i don't know your story and it's not in your voice, but you will do much better than my example.

Congratulations on your upcoming book BOUND TO LOVE HER - an urban fantasy out in May 2008!! Tell us about the opening to that book.

Dianna :)

 
At 1:32 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Theresa -

Thanks for stopping by. What have you read lately that got your attention quickly?

I think Stephie Davis' book BOYS ON THE LEDGE starts with a fun opening that grabs you:
"The only way to survive boys is to put them on The Ledge as often as possible. Allie Morrison's older sister, Louisa, the resident expert on men, was the one who told us about the The Ledge." It's clearly a YA and I can't imagine ANY teenager girl who wouldn't be curious.

Dianna :)

 
At 1:43 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

The book used to start with No. 1, and it was too relaxed, not enough narrative tension, so I added No. 1 in front of it. The segue between the two is...interesting, but I can't decide if it's interesting in a keep-them-reading kind of way, or if it's just awkward. It might be the latter.

Considering that I have been doing revisions/rewrites for seven days straight, the idea of trying to change it today is repellent. You guys have fun. I'm off the hook for a little. I sent my ed. the manuscript last night at around 11:30. Whuf.

 
At 1:44 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

...added No TWO in front of it. You probably figgered that out.

 
At 1:49 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

It wasn't that manuscript that I was working on, btw. A different manuscript. Oh, right... Dianna wanted to see the opening to my May release. It's not as strong as the one I just posted, but here it is.

Bound to Love her

Things happen in the spring. New things, sexy things… odd things. In my case, all those things happened because I took my neighbor’s dog for a walk on one particular evening.

It was windy, and the tails of my long, black coat flew out behind me as I walked to the house next door. Streetlights flickered to life over waving tree branches dotted with buds. I rang the bell and waited.

A small, elderly woman opened the door. “Hello, Erin!”

“Hi, Mrs. Jamison. Would Thor like a walk?” I smiled at the huge black Newfoundland that stood behind her, claws clicking restlessly on the wooden floor. Mrs. Jamison had a big yard, but Thor was a little too much dog for her.

Mrs. Jamison looked down at her pet. “What do you say, Thor?” He grinned up at her, white teeth shining as his tail thrashed. “I think that’s a yes.” She reached for the leash that hung by the door and handed it to me. “This is so nice of you to do, Erin.”

“Hey, you’re doing me a favor. I wouldn’t walk after dark without the dog, and it’s my favorite time to get outside.” I took a deep breath, closing my eyes. “It’s incredible tonight, isn’t it?”

She peered up at the waving trees, rubbing her knuckles as she did so. “We used to say this was the kind of night for ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties.”

“I’m not worried. When I hear a bump in the night, it’s my cat jumping off the kitchen counter.”

“Not a believer in the supernatural?” She chuckled. “I thought you worked at a New-Age store.”

“That’s because I believe strongly in harp-oriented CDs and flower-fairy jewelry.” I patted Thor and smiled at his owner. “We should be back within an hour.”

----------------------------------
I already see a bunch of stuff that could be changed, but oddly, my editor didn't ask for anything. But I could tighten up the dialogue, and get rid of that "It was windy..." All these things could still happen.

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Oh, all right, I'll tighten the freakin' thing. These voices in my head just won't leave me alone.

Bound to Love Her

Things happen in the spring. New things, sexy things… odd things. In my case, all those things happened because I took my neighbor’s dog for a walk on one particular evening.

A chill wind blew the tails of my long, black coat behind me as I walked to the house next door. Streetlights flickered to life over waving tree branches dotted with buds. I rang the bell and waited.

A small, elderly woman opened the door.

“Hi, Mrs. Jamison. Would Thor like a walk?”

Mrs. Jamison looked down at the huge black Newfoundland that stood beside her, claws clicking restlessly on the wooden floor, tail thrashing. “I think he's saying yes.” She handed me the leash that hung by the door. “I appreciate this so much, Erin.”

“Hey, you’re doing me a favor. I love to walk after dark, but I wouldn't do it without the dog.” I took a deep breath. “There's something electric about the air tonight, isn't there?”

She peered at the waving trees, rubbing her knuckles as she did so. “We used to say this was a night for ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties.”

“I’m not worried. When I hear a bump in the night, it’s my cat jumping off the kitchen counter.”

She chuckled. “Not a believer in the supernatural? I thought you worked at a New-Age store.”

“That’s because I believe strongly in harp-oriented CDs and flower-fairy jewelry.” I patted Thor. “We should be back within an hour.”

 
At 2:32 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Esri Rose said...

[Oh, all right, I'll tighten the freakin' thing. These voices in my head just won't leave me alone.]

LOL - it's a vicious cycle isn't it? Write, rewrite, rethink, write new and so on. I'm a firm believer in when it feels good to you to go with it. From years of being with other artists painting large creations, I used to see an artist once in a while get to the point a painting was perfect...then keep putzing with it until he lost that spark.

I love your voice and style. You keep us in stitches at the WNP loops. Thanks for sharing the opening.
Dianna :)

 
At 6:19 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Okay. Sigh. I'm going to differ with (gasp)Dianna...
I like Esri's #1 opening best. I like it because it asks the question of why does the dog hate her? There is humor and saddness.. and a character who I immediately like.

The second version, I'd like in a synopsis. It seems to me it "tells" too much of what the story is about, rather than having the story unfold.

But that's just me...

One thing is for certain. Esri's voice is distinct, clever, and humorous. I love it!!

 
At 6:52 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Diane, I like the first one better, myself. I just love that tight focus on the dog. But the other one seems to appeal to a broader spectrum of people. That's why we never take reviews seriously, right? Because (repeat after me, class), IT'S ALL A MATTER OF PERSONAL TASTE.

 
At 7:18 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Diane - That's why I enjoy giving the Powerful Openings workshop - to show just how subjective this business is.

80% of the workshop attendees will be in agreement, but the other 20% are just as adamant about their choices. I gave the sample openings to my agent at the same time as the attendees so she could select her favorite with no more information than the class had and no names or titles. Risky, but my agent is very cool and can deal with things on the fly.

She picked the "made up" opening at the end of my post as her favorite. While it was flattering to have my agent choose something I'd made up, I had planned that particular opening as the sacrifical lamb we would revise. Even after I dissected it, she still liked it.

That's why we have chocolate and vanilla. :)

Thanks for stopping by. Looking forward to your next historical in January 2008 - THE VANISHING VISCOUNTESS!

Dianna :)

 
At 7:21 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Esri Rose said...
[That's why we never take reviews seriously, right? Because (repeat after me, class), IT'S ALL A MATTER OF PERSONAL TASTE.]

Absolutely!! But isn't it nice that both of your openings got a thumbs up? :)

Dianna

 
At 8:07 PM, Blogger banksofmillbrook said...

This is great reading. Thanks, Dianna.

When you think about the impact just a few words on a page can have...wow. Storytelling is so cool.

And Esri, I love ALL of your openings (but I'm a dog nut, so I confess the first one hooked me hardest). I totally dig your writing and I'm for sure gonna buy your book when it comes out in May. :-)

So, I'm working on my "darkish" paranormal (not the superhero one) and struggling with whether I want to begin with a brief atmospheric prologue that sets up the hero's struggle with the story's driving external conflict, or going with a more "mainstreamy" kind of beginning that sets up the heroine's more mundane but relate-able (hopefully) struggles.

What do you think of this style of beginning? I like it because it shows action and mystery but it doesn't slam you.

I can think of two books that use the "atmospheric" prologue method successfully: The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale and A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole. (there are probably a bunch more examples but these come to mind 'cause they're in my pile)

Cole's beginning: "Sometimes the fire that licks the skin from his bones dies down. It is _his_ fire. In a recess of his mind still capable of rational thought, he believes this. His fire because he's fed it for centuries with his destroyed body and decaying mind."

Kinsale's: "In a place of dark and stillness he suspended thought. He let the vast chatter of humanity slip away, let the sound of the light wind in the curtains fill his mind. He stared at his dim reflection in the mirror until the face there became a stranger, a set of features without expression in the silver eyes and impassive mouth...and then less than a stranger, only an austere mask...then something beyond that: not human, but elemental shapes."

Both prologues are brief (Kinsale's 1 p, and Cole's 2.5 pp) and then with chap1 we shift to the heroine's pov and struggle.

And I'm not gonna post mine, because now that I'm re-reading it for the eight thousandth time it just seems too dang hokey! Arghh. Okay. Maybe I'll blow off the atmosphere.

 
At 8:35 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

I bet it's WAY better than you're giving yourself credit for, Banks :)

What I'm getting from all this is:
1- write it, revise it, set it aside, and write it again. Tighten, tighten, tighten.

2- don't let anyone else's opinion overshadow your gut feelings about your story.

Great examples, guys.

 
At 9:01 PM, Blogger Santa said...

Hi Dianna. Great blog. I attended that Powerful Openings Workshop in Dallas. There was another opening you used in the workshop that just about everyone thought was weak and too all over the place. I believe it was the opening to one of Pearl S. Buck's books.

It begged the question, for me, of what makes a great opening? Demands of the market? Of a sub-genre? Or of a really gifted author?

I learned a lot from that workshop and changed the opening line of my ms. I thank you!

 
At 9:19 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Banks, I like the sound of the atmospheric opening. And I bet you did just fine.

Esri, I loved your new tightened opening. Wow, what a difference! Great job!

I think it's interesting how both of your openings on the tarot card reader book would work just fine. All that power we have as writers, to pick and choose what mood we want to set...

 
At 10:19 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Here's the beginning of The Vanishing Viscountess (thanks for the plug, Dianna!)

The gale roared like a wild beast. Under its savage attack, the ship creaked and moaned and begged for mercy. Shouts of the crew echoed the ship’s distress as men struggled to work the pumps and save the rigging.
Adam Vickery, the Marquess of Tannerton, or Tanner, as he was known to his friends, sat with the other passengers in the packet ship’s cuddy awaiting his demise. He remained still, arms crossed over his chest, eyes closed, reviewing his life.
He found it wanting.


This is one of my favorites of all my openings.

Our Washington (DC) Romance Writers had an all day workshop with Michael Hauge last Saturday and he said the beginning/set-up should:
Draw you in to the setting
Establish tone
Establish empathy with the hero/protagonist
Show the hero in his ordinary life

 
At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Tina Larson said...

I love all the great suggestions you have here. I will definitely check my ms with the list of elements to consider to hopefully make it shine!
Thanks!

 
At 4:39 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Wow, Diane. You should be proud; that is excellent!

And hey! I think I've managed to hit all those "Hauge" high points! Well, I need to double-check on that empathy point...but it's really nice to think I might be making some progress. :)

 
At 7:56 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Here's what Hauge says about empathy, Gillian.
You build empathy by:
Making the hero likeable
Create sympathy for hero
Put hero in jeopardy
Make hero funny
Make hero powerful

He said that at least two of these should be shown before showing any negative traits of hero/protagonist

It was a great workshop!

 
At 8:12 AM, Blogger Santa said...

Diane, you hit it in spades. Can't wait to read more in January!

And thanks for sharing those great points from Hauge's workshop.

I feel I must apologize here. I was a bit snarky yesterday. I sent out my first query (a requested partial) and alternate between bouts of nausea and feral snarling. I hoping there's a happy medium somewhere in there.

I am going to The American Girl Place in NYC (I love the city) with my daughter. That should do the trick. We are going for tea and a book signing. Hey, gotta start them early!

You guys have been fantastic. Maybe if my nerves stop quivering I'll post my opening in the wee hours of the morning.

 
At 9:30 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Diane's V.V.: That really is a FABULOUS opening. I love the rhythm of the sentences. It feels very storm like, and then...boom... We're in the still space of the hero's mind. It's really outstanding.

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Santa, honey: You weren't in the least snarky, honey. You're fine.

Banks: I'm not a dark paranormal reader (I don't read anything dark, actually), but I liked Kinsale's opening, mostly because it's an experience people can relate to. Most of us have stood in front of a mirror and stared at ourselves until our faces were just a bunch of shapes.

 
At 10:32 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Santa, mailing out a partial is a scary thing so, even though I don't think you were snarky..or even nauseous (g)... I think whatever you feel is understandable.

CONGRATULATIONS for allowing yourself to take this step, to believe in yourself and in your writing enough to take the risk. You've achieved more than most people who attempt to write a book ever do!

After the American Girl store (what a great idea!)relax for the weekend and then on Monday or maybe after TG, start thinking of the next book

 
At 7:47 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Banksofmillbrook -

Sorry I'm just getting back now. I stayed up as long as I could the other night then had to jump off so I could get a little sleep (had to be up at 3am the next morning). I just got home from the trip I was on when we (Jill Monroe, the goddess, posted the blog) posted this.

I spent a lot of time researching fantasy and paranormal openings for an out of town chapter workshop because the majority of their writers were writing those genres or subgenres in romance. It was fascinating to see all the different ways the stories opened. I brought a selection to anaylze and discuss.

Some of the stories opened with setting, which was not that intriguing. But several opened deep in one character's POV where we were anchored in the setting and in their everyday world, but we're pulled into the story conflict fairly quickly. The attendees consistently chose the opening that drew us into "someone's" world over one that was basically descriptive.

I tried to find those files but that was a year or two back so I don't have it on my current desktop, but I found THE COMPASS R0SE by Gail Dayton (LUNA 2005)

[ The wind off the sea snapped the banners to attention on the city walls. It ripped at the edges of the captain's tight queue and set the two white ribbons of her rank fluttering from her shoulders. Kallista Varyl tugged her tunic, blue for the direction of her magic,into better order. Yet one more time she wished that if she had to have North magic, she might have been given some more useful type. Directing winds, for instance.
She abhorred the way the wind here in Ukiny constantly tugged at her hair, destroying any attempt at neatness and order. And wind magic had civilian uses. Practical, productive uses. Her magic had no use other than war, so here she stood, captain of the Reinine's Own, on the walls of this besieged city waiting for the coming attack.
"What's the mood below?" Kallista continued her slow patrol of the ramparts.
"Quiet. Tense. They know what's coming." ]

That's a very intriguing opening and you're drawn into the conflict. So - personally - I prefer to be drawn into the conflict since that's what drives the story. That's the central question you hear from editors and agents is "what is the conflict?"

One suggestion I made to this particular group of writers was to use an opening as an exercise. To challenge themselves to write an opening that pulls the reader into the "initial" conflict (it might not be the story conflict, but it's one that starts the domino effect). Why not just try it to see what it would look like?

I took a class a long time ago where the speaker gaves us a couple elements to write a scene and said it had to be a horror story. I mentally griped because I don't write horror stories. I don't read them because my imagination is scary enough without feeding it new props. "g"

But I'm not going to waste my time or the teacher's and not do the assignment. I took the challenge and wrote a scene that surprised me and the group really liked. I still don't write horror, but that taught me to never limit my thinking - which is saying something considering that I'm known for not just thinking outside the box, but living outside of it. ;)

I hope that helps some. Sounds like an interesting project.

Dianna :)

 
At 7:50 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Gillian -

Gillian Layne said...

[ 2- don't let anyone else's opinion overshadow your gut feelings about your story.]

I agree totally. You have to go with what you feel good about. Just like I said in the beginning, there is no one perfect way to start any story.

thanks for stopping by.

Dianna

 
At 8:05 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Santa -

Thanks so much for the wonderful words about my workshop at national and for attending. Yes, the one everyone gave a thumbs down was by a brilliant author.

That's a great example of how an editor may not buy a book that is a brilliant piece of work - we're talking literary editors as well - if they aren't captivated early.

Yes, I do think demands of the market play a role here just as it did many years ago when so few books were being published. I joke that I'll read an instruction manual if I can't get my hands on something else because I'm a voracious reader. Can you only imagine the voracious readers fifty years ago? One hundred years ago?

We have so many more books available today that it's literally a buyer's market. Put in that context, you can see how book selling is so competitive when it comes to selling your story to the consumer/reader.

For that reason, the opening is your window banner that entices the customer to come into the store. If you're the only dress store in town - you don't have to work so hard to get the local woman in to shop. But if you're in a strip center with a hundred stores of which eighty percent are dress stores - you will have to work to draw in customers.

That's the business part of this. There was a time when you could ease into a story - as a new writer - but it's hard to sell a slow opening now. I say "as a new writer" because we all see stories by major authors who don't open particularly fast, but the publishers know the reader base for those authors will "allow" the author to start slowly.

thanks for stopping by.

Dianna

 
At 8:07 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

HI Tina -

So nice of you to join the discussion. What are you writing?

Dianna :)

 
At 8:13 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Diane -

Wonderful opening. Enjoyed the whole sensation of the storm and liked that last line about looking at his life and finding it wanting.

Thanks for the notes on Michael Hauge. I love his workshops.

Santa - kudos on submitting. It's a big step so I hope you had a fun tea.

Dianna :)

 
At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Tina said...

Dianna,
I've written a Western that I think I'm going to rewrite as more of an epic. But, I finished a Regency. That's what I'm sending to the Golden Heart. I hadn't thought to send it until someone said the big..."Why not?" I couldn't come up with anything, so here I am trying to get all the info I can before I send it. Mary Buckham suggested I take a look here. And of course, there is the possibility of the critique. :)

 

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