Throw your characters right in the middle of the action. Don’t keep your readers waiting.
While I get the point, the advice is trying to steer new writings against Dark and Stormy Night openings, if we take this advice literally, we lose readers.
If we open with car chases, explosions, violent death . . . yeah, exciting but . . .
Why should I care?
The reader knows nothing about the people involved. While there may be an emotional reaction, will it be enough to sustain the reader beyond the first scene?
Remember, the reader is at the point where she is trying to decide why should I keep reading?
Besides, if you start too high, chances are, your story has only one place to go from there.
A compelling opening starts the story the scene before the action.
Your loner character is walking down the street, he cares for no one and nothing. He stumbles over a broken piece of sidewalk; the ground opens up and he literally crashes through to another world. He discovers that he is the only one with a certain skill set to save the world.
This is the opening to Lee Child’s first Jack Reacher story, The Killing Floor
I was arrested in Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in the rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.
The diner was small but clean and bright. Brand new. Built to resemble a converted railroad car. Narrow, with a long lunch counter on one side and a kitchen bumped out back. Booths lining the opposite wall. A doorway where the center booth would be.
I was in a booth, at a window, reading somebody’s abandoned newspaper about the campaign for a president I didn’t vote for last time and I wasn’t going to vote for this time. Outside, the rain had stopped but the glass was still pebbled with bright drops. I saw the police cruisers pull into the gravel lot. They were moving fast and crunched to a stop. Light bars flashing and popping. Red and blue light in the rain drops on my window. Doors burst open, policemen jumped out.
Both examples above start with the character, raises questions, makes you wonder, and creates a foreshadow or sense of foreboding. They also give the Call to Adventure that starts the story. Now you can hit your readers with action.
For a clever and concise example of how to write the call to adventure: check here
To make your opening pop:
- Give your reader someone to care about
- Start the action before the action
- Clearly reveal your call to action
What are some of your favorite examples of the perfect opening?
The Malice in Memphis Hit Me With Your Best Shot writing competition is now accepting submissions through May 1 2018.