Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Opening a story—First, grab their attention

It was a cold and windy night.

Laura Borealis has published a blog article on TheTen Worst Story Openings. As I've mentioned previously, I open each of the Steve Dancy Tales with a number that is actually the sequence number of that particular novel in the series. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it's merely the opening word. I normally jump into the middle of a conversation. My intent is to make the reader curious about what the characters are talking about.

As an example, here are the opening lines of Leadville. The idea is to convey that something is about to happen and it is vitally important.
“Days or weeks?” I asked.
“Days.” Jeff Sharp squinted at the telegram as if it hid additional information. Rubbing the back of his neck, he added, “He can’t make it. It’s a six-day ride.”
“If Captain McAllen says he’ll be here in three days, we’d better have a room ready for him.”
Here is an example from my latest work, Jenny’s Revenge. The idea here is to start the book with tension and tell loyal fans that Steve and Virginia are together.
I recoiled. “Six dollars per night?”
“Yes, sir.”
“May I see the suite?”
Virginia squeezed my arm. “It will be perfectly fine.”
I never took my eyes from the clerk. “I’m sure, but I’d like to see it just the same.”
Are these great openings? I don’t know. I only know that I like to get the story moving from the gitgo. How about Borealis’ terrible openings? I agree with them all … except every one of these rules can be violated on occasion. In Tempest at Dawn, I simultaneously violated #1, #2, and #6. The opening lines of my prologue are:
Anxiety woke me before dawn. Rolling to my side, I pulled the heavy quilt around my exposed ear. Was I ready? Had I prepared sufficiently? Would the old man reveal what I had come here to learn? He was stubborn and had frustrated many before me.
The prologue was my agent’s idea and I believe it worked for this novel. A few reviewers disagreed, but they appeared to object because they had heard the oft repeated rule to avoid prologues. Generally, this is sound advice, but prologues can perform a positive function if they don't violate other guidelines of good writing. For example, show instead of tell still applies.

I don’t remember violating any of the other seven“Worst Story Openings,” so there appears to be a lot of work ahead of me.

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