Monday, November 1, 2010

Intriguing Openings

Ted hadn't noticed the elevator car wasn't there when he stepped into the shaft.


A statement such as this one is likely to get a reader's attention.

A good opening line at the beginning of a book is vital to "hooking" the reader. If she isn't intrigued by the first line, will she read the second, third, fourth?

A writer owes her readers a compelling story. Every scene in a book should begin with a great opening line. The sentence need not convey danger or be as graphic as the line about Ted above, but it should effectively interest the reader, set up a mood, clarify a setting, give information about characters, etc.

The opening ideally intrigues the reader and effectively coaxes him to want to read more. To illustrate what I mean, I'll post a few first lines from several scenes in my dramatic contemporary romance "Stolen Son."

Opening 1. "The knock at the door nearly made her drop a whole handful of fresh bay leaves into simmering pot of tomato sauce."

Lots of information in this opening: She's in the kitchen cooking a tomato sauce (mm, I can smell it!)--we've all done something similar so right away we can identify with our heroine. The INTRIGUING part of this setup comes in the knock at the door. "Who is it?" the reader wants to know, and how is the person on the other side of the door going to change the heroine's life? This opening has a hook; it paints a domestic picture; it tells us a bit about what the heroine enjoys doing.

Opening 2. "Logan sat on the sofa while Rafe took a couple of beers out of the small refrigerator next to his credenza."

This one sentence gives the reader a lot of information: Logan and Rafe are probably buddies since they're having a beer together. The "small refrigerator next to his credenza" implies an office setting. The office has a sofa as well as a stocked fridge so it's a business/casual situation. This scene evokes reader curiosity in addition to illustrating a setting: What are these two men up to? Is it business or personal? INTRIGUING.

Opening 3. "He laid her on the sofa and placed a pillow under her head."

Totally INTRIGUING. Who is she? Is she passed out? Drunk? Sick? Who is she to him? And who is he? Are his motives compassionate or sinister? In addition to the "hook" value to this statement, the reader is grounded in the location of the scene.

Opening 4. "Rafe couldn’t help whistling as he bound up the three steps leading to the entrance of C & W Construction."

This opening line is a perfect illustration of what writers mean when they say they want to "show" something instead of "tell" it. The mood of this scene could have been easily set up by saying "Rafe was really, really happy," but we'd have a pretty lame sentence to read compared to the "whistling" one in that case, wouldn't we? This first liner conveys mood, identifies one character in the scene and the location. INTRIGUING part--just what is this guy so happy about? And how long will his happiness last?

Opening 5. "The joy of spending the night with Christopher was marred by having it take place in the hospital."

Majorly INTRIGUING! Conflict abounds. "Joy" and "in the hospital" are two things one would certainly not usually equate with each other. The statement prompts the reader to wonder: Who is with Christopher? Who is Christopher? Who was hospitalized and why? What is going on here!! In addition to effectively creating reader curiosity, this opening gives location and reveals the unusual, conflicting mood of the person whom we believe will be the star of this scene.

Opening lines are used to intrigue and inform readers. The better they are, the greater the reader enjoys the story.

And entertaining the reader is what writing fiction is all about.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

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