When we decided sometime ago to study brilliant openings E.C. Sheedy said this:
“…on the Pen Warrior’s blog, we’ll be highlighting and talking about opening pages that we liked and why they compelled us to download the book and read more. We’re calling this effort Opening Pages Impact Critique (OPIC) and we’re looking forward to learning from our writing peers, and seeing what they did in their OPs that made us buy the book…
We decided, that while we might spend hours fussing over a book description, promo opportunities, reviews, a cover, equally imperative was that our opening pages provide an exciting and honest entry point to the book. Our openings must impact the reader, be so captivating (there’s that word again) he or she is compelled to read on and on and on…”
While dissecting When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Vanessa Grant advised us to use evocative words that speak: hoping, waiting, empty, abandoned, bare.
Gail Whitiker praises slow beginnings rather than fast-paced action openings and reminds us to set mood (The Shell Seekers by Pilcher), and intrigue, place and mood (The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton). She said, “A fast train will get you where you’re going, but a scenic one arrives with far more memories in tow.”
Laura Tobias studies the importance of voice in her dissection of A Long Time Gone by Karen White. “There’s no dialogue or action. At first glance, it appears to be a fairly static start. Yet the voice of the narrator is incredibly strong and pulls me in. It allows me time to absorb the setting of the south: the flat fields, the fertile soil, the great Mississippi. The levees and the delta. It gives me rich imagery…” Voice is a vital part of strong openings.
This from E.C. Sheedy on a discussion of the prologue in Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You:
- The author started the book in the bedroom. Instant intimacy.
- The contrasting opinions about the holiday. Character conflict/character building.
- The highlighting of the hero’s physical prowess and need for activity. Why?
- The author created an engaging character/hero I wanted to know more about.
Time has passed, books have been written since we last studied strong beginnings, and hopefully, we’ve all learned what to strive for. As a recent exercise I decided to veer from discussing others’ openings and wanted to see what I’d done, with all of the above in mind! To that end I analyzed three of my more current works.
My purpose in sharing my discoveries is to encourage analysis of your own work to see if you’ve hit the marks we strive for as writers.
April 1 Seattle, WA
Dane Caldwell ignored his better judgment at 3:45 p.m. and walked across the street into Dixon’s Pawn Shop. Like millions of others in every city in America, the shop sat in a row of storefronts with overhead apartments. Except for the signs, they were all identical. Each one had a door at the side for the apartment stairwells, and he’d bet each one also had a rear entrance to the apartment from an alley in back.
Cops liked to know where the exits were, but since he was here without backup, he’d take the most direct approach and walk in like any other customer. He was so far out of his jurisdiction he might as well be from Mars.
Good beginnings should raise questions in the readers’ minds while feeding background, foreshadowing conflict, introducing character (more than a name…a sense of what makes this person tick), setting and more.
By having my hero ignore his better judgment I’ve introduced internal conflict in the first six words. Then I show his observant nature with a description of a row of businesses we’ve all seen. This is a universal experience or knowledge. Not only do we have a place, we have a sense that it’s an older area of Seattle, and because he’s watching a pawn shop the neighborhood may be seedy. The seediness increases a sense of foreboding. But I don’t say it’s a seedy area, I allow the reader to discern on their own.
In paragraph two we learn Dane is a cop without backup who is out of his jurisdiction. This explains why he should listen to his better judgment, not ignore it.
And then, we have the title of the book which should be fresh in the mind of our reader: Love in a Pawn Shop. Our hero has no idea what he’s stepping into in Dixon’s Pawn Shop, but the reader does. The reader is in on the joke! Will a romance reader continue reading? I tell myself they will.
December – Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, Canada
7:40 a.m. and dawn was still too far away to imagine. Not that Kirk Fontaine believed in mornings anymore. The idea of a light sky and sunshine felt foreign and old and impossible, especially above the forty-ninth parallel in mid-December.
Out of the gloom came the tip-tip-tap of running paws along the wooden pier. The woman’s dog must have slipped away from its owner again. The dog with a stalker mentality. No matter where he was on the Nanaimo waterfront, the scruffy little mutt made straight for him. It wasn’t that he didn’t like dogs it was just that this one came with a woman Kirk could barely take his eyes off of.
Coincidentally, I’ve started with the hero again. (Most of my books start with the hero.) In the first paragraph I’ve shown Kirk is in a dark place emotionally. Using words like sunshine felt foreign and old and impossible. Also he doesn’t believe in mornings anymore. I like to think that most people have had periods where they feel this way. Grief or struggles with divorce and family is universal, so I tried to tap into that.
Out of the gloom came the tip-tip-tap of running paws… Something is already coming to save him! A herald of better times is in the sound of the paws. And because the dog has a stalker mentality we know that Kirk can’t escape the change that’s coming his way. Thank goodness! Readers are already rooting for the hero to move on from the darkness. And then, bam…there she is, a woman he can’t take his eyes off of.
Invitation to Christmas (2016) https://books2read.com/Invitation-to-Christmas
Tom Fontaine wanted his father back at work, plain and simple. He had big plans to expand Fontaine Homes and he needed his father there to do it with him. He grabbed his first coffee of the morning and heard his grandmother call from upstairs. “Did I miss them?” she asked.
“Yes, they just left.” His dad and his new girlfriend were on their way to serve up Christmas breakfast at a shelter.
New girlfriend. Shit. His mom had only been dead six months. What was up with finding a new woman already? And in Nanaimo of all places. It was pretty, but still, it was a backwater tourist town perched on the edge of Vancouver Island. In Canada!
This opening differs from the other two. We know exactly what Tom wants and why: wanted his father back at work, plain and simple. He had big plans to expand Fontaine Homes. Tom’s thoughts are all about business…and then…his grandmother’s voice breaks into his thoughts, reminding him subtly that Christmas is about family.
The next paragraph emphasizes that Christmas is about giving: to serve up Christmas breakfast at a shelter.
In paragraph three we get to the crux of Tom’s internal conflict: There’s a new woman in his dad’s life, one who may usurp his dead mother’s place. As with the other openings, I tried to hit a universal. Then, just to make it worse, this new woman is in a faraway backwater town which will make it even harder for Tom to get what he wants: his father back at work at home.
In preparing this post, I analyzed my openings and have discovered why I so often start my stories with the hero. I believe romance readers want to fall in love with our heroes or want to know what makes them tick right away. At least I hope I’ve got that right!
Bonnie Edwards is planning a big year in 2017 with up to 5 releases (including another Christmas story) If you’d like to be first to learn what’s coming out then sign up for her newsletter. http://oi.vresp.com?fid=4ecdcb6889 or Follow her from her Amazon author page here:http://www.amazon.com/Bonnie-Edwards/e/B001IO9UTO