Thursday, February 05, 2009

Book Openings

I'm starting a three part series on The Big Edits. It'll be running on the blog, The Blood-Red Pencil.

Today I talk about those edits most likely to affect the start of your book -- things like Point of View, slow beginnings, and back story. In Part Two, we go into pacing of the scenes and dialogue versus narrative. Then in Part Three, we talk about the plot of your book itself, as well as conflict.

For those who visit here on Straight From Hel, I’m giving you an extra, two examples of possible openings for the same book. Here’s the first version:
Birds, squirrels, frogs, and rabbits shared the woods with me. There was nothing to fear, except the occasional snake. I sat on one once. Or more accurately, I plopped down on a rock, only to find a snake crawling out from underneath. Frozen, I watched it slither across bare toes like a cool water current.
And the second version:
Mama knew everything and could kiss away scrapes and bruises, but the summer of my twelfth year, I learned Mama could be wrong.

“Rose! You get yourself back up here, hon. There’s snakes in those woods,” Mama yelled through the backdoor screen. “And that red clay, you can’t get Georgia clay out of clothes. Play in the front yard where there’s grass.”

Unlike Mama, I know the hardest thing to get out of clothes is not red clay. It’s blood.
I like the first version, but feel the second is better. It's immediate, not backstory, and it sets the tone of the book. Plus, right away, you meet two characters, Mama and Rose (notice Rose is the point of view character).

You’re welcome to comment here or share examples from your own work. You can also stop by The Blood-Red Pencil and ask questions or leave words of wisdom for your fellow writers.


  1. The 2nd is definitely my choice. It's immediate. Also has a great hook at the end.

    Morgan Mandel

  2. I agree, Morgan.

    Incidentally, I love your analogy on how to get published (today, on your blog -

  3. Great post, looking forward to the rest. You can see the difference between the showing and telling!

  4. Being inside the story, living it with the characters, vs. the narrator telling you what to think, feel and notice, to me, is comparable to teenagers -- they are influenced quite often more by their friends whom they are with all day long than with their parents who tell them what to do. Even as adults, we often rebel against someone preaching to us.

  5. I think the real hook in the second example is the bit about blood. That sure sucks a reader in.

    I already want to know more.

    Wyatt at Pan Historia

  6. Loved the second one--especially the last line! Well done. I look forward to following your blogs.

    And thanks for your comment on the Querytracker Blog today.

  7. Great examples. Thanks for sharing. Followed you here from Blood-Red Pencil.

  8. Ahh, Wyatt, you are a boon to one's ego. That is the opening to the first chapter of a novel I wrote. Within that first chapter, I have two other "teasers."

  9. Thanks for stopping by Mary. Anyone interested in learning more about writing query letters, synopses, etc., stop by her co-op blog at:

  10. Hello Angie! Thanks for dropping over and I'm so glad you visited The Blood-Red Pencil. Gotta love a blog with "blood" in the name. ;-)

  11. Definitely the second version. The first is great for nonfiction, but doesn't really draw you in. BTW, Helen, is this an excerpt from your WIP? If it is, I'm interested in reading the rest. :)


  12. I thought they were both good, be honest ... but I agree getting two for one with the character intros is nice. I'll check in a BRP too.

    Oh - "slither across bare toes like a cool water current" - good line!

  13. Someone once told me that you should "double-up" as soon as possible in your opening, i.e. bring in a second character. Your second opening does that in the second line. Much stronger!

  14. Thank you Jean, Marvin and Mark.

    The examples were from a book in progress. I'm at the editing phase now.

  15. Wonderful examples, Helen. It helps so much to have examples like that. And I hope this is a work that is already contracted as I am eager to read the whole book. :-)

  16. Hi Maryann. I haven't started querying it, so it's like winning the lottery. You first have to buy a ticket (or 2 or a thousand).

  17. I also jumped over from The Blood Red Pencil--You have a terrific site. I like the second example better but think the first would make a great opening for a children's book.

    I write mostly of the west--good ol' cowboy and Indian stuff.

    Hope to start querying soon on a YA novel, a first for me--most of my stuff has been non-fiction, short stories. The opening line--Today the old women would die, alone, in the snow and happy.

  18. I like your opening line. What genre is it for? Sounds rather "scary" for children's. I could see it as a YA, and definitely for a western. For me, the key word in your opening line is "women." Not one woman would die alone and happy, but "the old women." Very intriguing.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...