Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bang-up Openings

“A bang-up opening to the narrative not only hooks the reader, but also helps focus the writer’s tone and intent on what follows.” -- Steve Dimeo in “Opening Lines.” [The Writer’s Guide to Fiction published by The Writer Magazine, 2007]
I revisited some of my openings after selecting today’s quote. It's common advice to begin with action. I’ve also read that a work shouldn’t begin with the weather or dialog. None of my stories open with a detailed description of the weather. A few begin with dialog. Here are two examples.
“So when are you starting your diet, Sam?”
“I ain’t gonna kiss no pig on the lips.”
The first one shows the reader the dilemma and introduces a character named Sam. The dialog is mundane, but then so is the speaker. The second opening is … well … how could you not keep reading? :) It opens the only story to date for which I was paid.
Jason slammed his palette to the floor.
This sentence introduces the main character and shows he’s mad at something, but I wouldn’t label this a “bang-up opening.” Perhaps I had difficulty placing this story because the opening didn't provide me with a strong enough focus.
Marlene covered her face with a six-month-old copy of Golf Digest, like a rumpled detective in a B-movie, when Angel Franklin entered the waiting area.
I easily found an editor who liked this piece, and it was selected for inclusion in a print anthology by another editor. The opening introduces two characters, poses a few questions and, hopefully, captures the curiosity of the reader.
I can’t believe it. It’s Saturday night, and I’m in my favorite restaurant, wearing my little, red dress and my date, Pat, positioned on one knee, proposes to me in front of a bazillion people.
This is one of my favorite beginnings. The opening sentence isn’t a grabber, but the paragraph as a whole has to entice the reader to keep reading. Doesn't it? Still, the first editor I sent the story to rejected it. Maybe he didn't like it because the main character comes across as uncaring, and the tale deals with a gay relationship.

I agree with today’s quote when it says the opening “helps focus the writer’s tone and intent” and that a strong opening hooks the reader. However, I’m not sure the reader and I always agree on whether my story starts with a “bang-up opening.”

1 comment:

Lost Wanderer said...

I like the "pig" line. I would definitely keep reading.

I think the quote is right on the mark. I remember starting my first ever novel - started with a woman staring out of the window at the weather. Okay, plenty of books open with weather, but I think that was acceptable more 50 years ago.

I am paying attention now on starting stories with action. It isn't always easy, but practice makes perfect.