Thursday, April 23, 2009

Good Openings

Every opening implies:
  1. Events described in the first scene are relevant to the story that follows
  2. Events described in the first scene are significant players in the story
  3. The mood created in the beginning foreshadows events to come
  4. The narrative voice will sustain itself all the way to the end
  5. Conflicts hinted at early will be resolved as the story develops
  6. Themes established at the beginning will be expanded and explored through the story’s events and characters.
William G. Tapley in The Elements of Mystery Fiction
This list points out a problem I find with many of the short stories submitted for publication. The opening doesn't prepare the reader for the story that follows. I remember one piece that read like a mainstream work for the first two-thirds of the story, then turned into a fantasy. As a reader, I want to know what kind of story I’m reading from the beginning. Another example is a narrator's voice, or character's dialog, that switches from formal to colloquial throughout the prose.

For me, the worst mistake is to introduce a problem in the opening that disappears from the story. One work I reviewed recently, opened with a man standing in front of a mirror getting ready for his dream date, concerned the woman wouldn't like him because he was out of shape. And then, poof! There was never another mention of this after the first paragraph.

I was guilty of this when I started writing. I think I’m better at it now, probably because I read so many stories in which the author provides irrelevant information in the beginning.

1 comment:

GutsyWriter said...

You offer some great advice. I'm writing a memoir so my opening hook reveals a specific problem that gets resolved through a move to another country.