First up. HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE! I hope all the readers of the Pen Warriors’ books and blog have a safe, healthy, and very festive season. To help that along, here’s some Yule advice: Drink what you enjoy, eat what you like, and hug who you love.
But before we drown ourselves in eggnog, it’s time to talk book openings again—and learn from some uber-talented writers. I was supposed to have this blog up a week ago–don’t know what it is about me and schedules…
Anyway, I’m drawn to talk about ME BEFORE YOU, by Jojo Moyes—a book I read a few months back. I loved everything about ME BEFORE YOU and consider it one of the best books I’ve read in the last twelve months. If you haven’t read it and want to drown yourself in a beautiful and inspiring love story, read this book.
Because it’s been quite a while since I read the book, I went back to reread its beginning, see what magic Jojo Moyes used to get me involved in the story. The book began with a prologue; I’ve used only 213 words of it below. I’d estimate the whole prologue to be about 1300 words.
When he emerges from the bathroom she is awake, propped up against the pillows and flicking through the travel brochures that were beside his bed. She is wearing one of his T-shirts, and her long hair is tousled in a way that prompts reflexive thoughts of the previous night. He stands there, enjoying the brief flashback, rubbing the water from his hair with a towel.She looks up from a brochure and pouts.
She is probably slightly too old to pout, but they’ve been going out a short enough time for it to still be cute.
“Do we really have to do something that involves trekking up mountains, or hanging over ravines? It’s our first proper holiday together, and there is literally not one single trip in these that doesn’t involve either throwing yourself off something or”—she pretends to shudder—“wearing fleece.”
She throws the brochures down on the bed, stretches her caramel-colored arms above her head. Her voice is husky, testament to their missed hours of sleep. “How about a luxury spa in Bali? We could lie around on the sand…spend hours being pampered…long, relaxing nights…”
“I can’t do those sorts of holidays. I need to be doing something.”
“Like throwing yourself out of airplanes.”
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”
Prologues can be tricky beasts, too often used as unnecessary front-runners for stories that would be best set off running in Chapter One—sans any early wordiness. But in this case the prologue perfectly met the needs of the story, because it served to cover the time gap between the inciting event and the story’s beginning several months later. This scene—in my humble opinion —had to be a prologue.
It’s a pretty quiet scene, really, not an opener that immediately blasts the reader into a reading frenzy. It’s more of a velvet rope, giving slight tugs and silky intimations of what’s to come.
For me, that velvet rope did the trick.
But why? And how?
I knew immediately I was meeting the hero of the story, and he intrigued me. The opening told me a lot about him. He’s confident and controlled (stands there, enjoying the brief sexual flashback), casual (rubbing the water from his hair), wealthy (the planned holiday), adventurous (throwing himself out of airplanes), and very physical (needs to be doing something). I didn’t particularly like the woman he’s just spent the night with, the woman he’d been “going out” with for a “short” time, and believed this to be the author’s intention. This man’s heart is most assuredly not taken—which means I’ve a heroine yet to meet.
So… the question is, if a book’s opening is intended to suck you in, ignite your curiosity, and raise questions that must be answered, what elements in this one made it work?
- 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.
The first two hundred words of the velvet rope linked me to a character I liked and cared about, and by the end of the 1300 word prologue, when his world changed beyond anything he could imagine, I hit reading overdrive and could not stop.
Thank you, Jojo Moyes.