Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Don't Begin with the Weather.

“Stories should open at a significant moment. Begin with characters in meaningful situations. Readers do not need to know who the characters are, where they came from, what happened to them earlier, or what they want. Readers don’t yet care about your characters’ previous lives, and they don’t need an explanation of what’s going on. Not yet." William G. Tapply in The Elements of Mystery Fiction
I like to open my stories showing the reader a character with a problem. I didn't always do this in my early works. I may not let the reader know what the exact problem is right away, but I want to leave the reader with a question in his mind. To me, this is what makes him want to continue.

I’m tired, as an editor, of reading openings that tell me about the weather, or that show someone walking down the street for no apparent reason. True, the weather can be an important element in a story, but I find it hard to write a compelling opening hook using just the weather.

I added an example from one of my stories to yesterday’s post. Here’s the beginning of another one I’m working on that I believe illustrates today’s quote.
"Our day shouldn’t have ended this way. Yet here we were stuck on a mountain."
“We” are stuck on a mountain. I would say that's significant. The reader doesn’t know who “we” are yet, why their stuck, or how they got there. I simply set up the story. I don't say it explicitly, but I think the reader can figure out "we's" need is to get off the mountain. Now I can deal with setting, background, character names and descriptions as the story progresses.

Do you have a favorite opening -- either one of yours of someone else's?


AVR said...

I totally agree. I have started reading books that begin with the description of the location, but there is no action. This seems boring to me. You have to start with a line or lines that will "hook" the reader and have them continue reading and want to know what happens next. This opening is from Mary Higgins Clark's book: Two Little Girl's In Blue: "Hold on a minute, Rob, I think one of the twin's is crying. Let me call you back." It starts with an action and it draws you in to want to find out why the twins are crying.

Jim Harrington said...

This beginning leaves me with a number of questions. Why is one twin crying? How old are the twins? Who is going to check? Who is Rob and what does he want? It's also an interesting opening, because, normally, I might not care that a baby is crying. But given the author, I know she has a good reason for starting this way, and I want to know what it is.

Loren Christie said...

This post clears up a question I had bouncing around my head regarding my little Norman Whiskers saga. When I pick up the story in a new post, why do I feel the urge to explain characters for readers who haven't read previous posts? Now I have to get creative and work on this. Er,... I mean Norman has to improve his writing. :)