OPENERSA Lesson by Domenic Luciani
exactly what the title entails.
Have you ever been inside of a building that was recently burned to the ground?
Are you interested in hearing about it? Hopefully you are, or you may be a very dull person. I have just asked you a very unorthodox question, one you would most likely say no to; unless, of course, you have been in a building that was recently burnt to the ground, in which case, I do hope you are alright.
What am I getting at here . . . well, I am trying to say that the opening line of anything, absolutely ANYTHING, is the most important. It WILL be the difference between an awesome book that gets the reader's blood going, heart pounding, all that good stuff, and one that falls flat. When the reader is walking around the store without any real motivation to buy a book, especially not yours, and they happen upon that one shelf where it's sitting, almost lifelessly, they may stop. Maybe it was because of the cover art, or the name was interesting, whatever.
They pick it up. If you were there, it would feel like being a candidate in an election, standing up in front of a crowd. You have thirty seconds to capture the audience, get your point across, don't sound ignorant or boring, don't sound so brilliant that the less educated of the masses will turn you down, and don't sound like a stiff. Now that thirty seconds turns to about two or three - as long as it takes for the reader to skim that first sentence.
They've stopped. They know that their distant relative is ordering them a cappucino right now just across the street, but they're not thinking about that right now. They're so perplexed at that first sentence they just have to read on, and . . . dear God, the next sentence is brilliant, too! They want to put the book down but they can't, they'll come back later they think . . . but then again, someone else might come along and find your story just as pleasing. scroll to a few minutes later. That person is leaving the bookshop, bag in hand, and a book they never intended to buy inside of it.
This is money in your pocket, and how did it all start? Because you spent a few lonely nights in cozy solitude, picking the perfect sentence that would inspire an equally brilliant novel.
Now, there are many, many ways to craft this oh-so-important sentence.
The QUESTION, as stated above, grabs the reader because they find themselves searching for an answer, or answering it themselves. It must be a strange question, one that the reader had never quite thought about it. It cannot be "Have you ever left your keys on the table?" But perhaps, "Have forgetting your keys on the table ever resulted in your arrest?" For the first, the reader may say, "Yes, I have. And it led to a fairly uneventful day." But for the second, the response may be "Well I have, but that has certainly never happened, and I can't see how I would . . . But I guess I should find out . . ."
You can start it off with a bit of SETTING. EX) "It was raining much more than usual that night" "The setting sun cast the desert in a single, black silhouette." "Dust, whipped up by the wind, blocked out the sunlight, slowly getting thicker as more rose from the earth." This puts the reader right there in the scene, they know where the character is, but they don't know why he's there. They want to know why he's in the desert, or wherever. Once again, something must separate the story from the average person's day.
ACTION: This will get the reader's heart pumping for a possible action sequence, or some troublesome event that has occured/occuring. You can start if off either with the character's name immediately mentioned, like "Bob was running through a series of backalleys and narrow corridors in an attempt to escape his pursuers." Or have the character be more . . . mysterious. "The dark figure clasped a hand to his shoulder as blood gushed out from between his fingers." -- Why was Bob running, and who were his pursuers? Who was the dark figure, and why was he bleeding so badly? These are called "Raised Questions" or ones not exlicitly asked. The reader is already right there next to Bob/the dark figure, and he/she wants to know what's going on.
Maybe you'd like a little INFO. "Bob and Liz couldn't have had a child, even if they had wanted to." "It's impossible for any one man to survive more than a week in the Sahara without supplies." It's kind of hard to randomly draw up examples for this without quoting a book so, "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit." Yeah, Lord of the Rings.
I don't advise the use of DIALOGUE to begin a book because often - quote 'often' not 'always' - it does not form a brilliant, or even adequate spark of interest. Personal experience. Hopefully, you can avoid it. It is not absolute death, so don't think that it cannot be pulled off, it's just not likely.
A VAGUE EVENT. I love this one. It is my favorite and I try to use it as often as possible for personal projects, even ones that I don't post on here. We'll start this off with the opener for Salamander (A book a highly recommend) "A burning scrap of paper drifts down out of the rain. A magic carpet on fire. It falls with a hiss to the wet stones of the street." This is beautiful. Art in words, truly. The reader knows exactly what type of book they're reading. They've pulled it off the shelf, eyes dart every which way, they clutch it to their chest and hurry off to the checkout counter, ignoring everything else along the way.
This usually takes place in present tense, with a few exceptions for past (usually when the event is being viewed from the present), and is usually the starter for a story that plans on usuing a lot of description.
These are not the only ways to begin something, though they are the most widely excepted. Don't let a work of genius fall through the cracks because of a faulty opener. Polish it up, make it work, make it sell.
Added on October 23, 2010
Last Updated on October 26, 2010
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if..