Great openings

Quick status update, I’m still working through the revision of the climactic scene in my novel and am on track to finish the revision of the whole book by this weekend. Fingers crossed.

But I wanted to talk about great openings. The first few words, paragraphs, pages of a book are all important, not only to attract an agent or editor, but also to attract readers who pick it up in a bookstore. I’ve heard at conferences that an editor will give a manuscript 150 words before he or she will put it down. If your writing and story aren’t compelling enough to hold onto a reader within 150 words, you’re in trouble.

So, how to make it compelling? Well, for starters, get straight into the action. If you have to explain stuff, don’t. It’s ok if the reader is confused for a short while, as long as he’s INTERESTED. If a reader is interested, even if there’s not much explaining at the beginning, he will continue to read because he’ll be looking for the explanation. That’s when you can give it him. But first, get him interested with action, drama.

I thought of this the other night as my husband and I watched Fool’s Gold. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey as treasure seekers. It’s fun, light evening fare — a few flat jokes, but all in all, entertaining enough.

But, the opening was great. It was memorable. And that’s exactly what you want your opening to be.

For Fool’s Gold — don’t worry, I’m just going to spoil the opening, not the whole movie — the opening shows two men in scuba gear on the seabed under a boat. The shot flips back and forth between them and the boat on the surface, which has an old generator that’s sending sparks flying. As the men search the sand for treasure, above them, a spark catches on a piece of paper, which floats into the boat’s cabin and onto a magazine lying on the bench, which catches fire… You get the picture. Now, down below, the men still don’t know that their boat is on fire, and when it sinks, they just see a bunch of sand in the water. They’re excited because they’ve just found something, so they head to the surface, where they explain what they’ve found and then look around wondering, “What happened to the boat?”

As I watched all this, I shrunk back in my seat in anticipation of the boat bursting into flames and then sinking. I laughed uncomfortably as the men, excited, had no idea they were going to have swim home. I was riveted to find out what would happen next.

But something else happened too: I found out the men were treasure seekers (ok, I knew that from the trailer, but you might not if you’re in a bookstore), they didn’t have a lot of money as their generator was sparking, they had found something important because they were excited, and they weren’t too smart, or at least, observant to their surroundings. All this in an opening.

Now, a scene like this might not work for a book, unless you’re writing in an omnipresent point of view. But you get my point. A good opening — sorry, a great opening will be exciting, thrilling, riveting and give the reader just enough information to allow him to understand what’s going on and what the story will be about. In short, it must make him want to read further.

What’s your favorite opening, book or movie?

Write On!

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