Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Openings

In-between other things, I’ve been working on editing my own work. Today, since I’ve been working on openings, I thought I’d share the opening of a manuscript of mine. Here it is:
Oliver sat back on his haunches and watched the sleeping woman. He'd been in this position for close to an hour, mesmerized by her, memorizing her. Brown hair, heavy and separated by sweat, draped across her flushed cheeks. Her mouth hung open as she drew air in trembling gasps. Body curled into a ball, she clasped long fingers beneath her chin. A chain attached to her left ankle stretched across her bare buttocks and fastened to the metal anchor plate on the wall behind her.
She released a long sigh, then inhaled with a low whimper. Her hands twitched, fingers fluttering like dry leaves in a hot breeze. She stirred from her sleep. Finally.
Oliver reached behind his back and touched the knife sheathed in his belt.
Is it suspenseful? I hope it sets that tone since it is, after all, a suspense book.

That's an important point to remember. What kind of book are you writing? Humorous? Suspense? Cozy? Romance? An opening has to do so much: hook the reader, set the tone, establish the plot, introduce characters, maybe even drop clues or foreshadow the climax.

This is not the original opening. It’s been re-written several times. And may be again.

The opening is important. It may be the most important part of your manuscript when it comes to getting an agent or an editor. It could determine whether your book gets bought or left on the shelf. But, on the other hand, don't spend your life trying to create the perfect beginning. Write it. Then go on with the rest of the story. Then go back and edit. It’s important not to get stuck in one part of the book. You have to keep moving forward.

If you don't get the story written, then a fabulous first page doesn't mean much, does it?
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35 comments:

  1. When I work on my openings, I end up (almost always) cutting off the first few paragraphs (or pages!) My issue tends to be blabbing about backstory or giving details that no one cares about.

    I agree that openings are so important. I just wish I was better at them!

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  2. Yes, I've recently taken a machete to my first chapter and moved the story a few paragraphs further on. It's almost as if we have to orientate ourselves, and only then can we roll up our sleeves and BEGIN with a capital B!
    I agree it is so much easier once you've gone through the first draft to the end.

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  3. Definitely suspenseful and a great hook. I'm still working on getting my beginning to do all those things you list. I've rewritten my beginning more times than any other part of my novel.

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  4. Great opening, Helen!

    I usually have the most problem with my endings, for some reason. Lots of reworking there...

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  5. I want to read more!

    Now I'm inspired to getback to work on my opening...

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  6. So often agents request only the first 5 or 10 pages. That's all the chance we get to engage their interest, so that opening is so critical.

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  7. If a great opening means leaving the readers wondering, questioning and wanting more - then you definitely have accomplished that. Very intriguing.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  8. I think it is excellent. Kept drawing me in and making my mind ask questins, like ... what? huh? OMG!

    And I loved this imagery-

    "Her hands twitched, fingers fluttering like dry leaves in a hot breeze."

    Sweet little baby there, Helen!

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  9. I read it, I didn't skim over it...you hooked me.

    Oliver appeared to be watching someone he loved, and I thought...ahh.

    This bit made me feel for the female, and I thought, Oliver is going to rescue her. He was a hero in my life for a few seconds.

    A chain attached to her left ankle stretched across her bare buttocks and fastened to the metal anchor plate on the wall behind her.

    Then Oliver pulls out a knife, and I am thinking, do I love or hate him? Will he be a hero or villian?


    Great work Helen, I envy your skill.

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  10. Openings are important because readers often use them to decide to buy and to keep reading. Endings can determine whether they're satisfied and will look for another by you. But, of course, all that in-between are imperative, too. No matter how seamless and fabulous the book, it's not easy to write it.

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  11. Great opening, Helen. Hooks the reader right in, wanting more. You are so right about openings. I struggled with that in my memoir as well. It got changed many many times before publishing.
    Karen

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  12. Openings are tough. They always give me trouble, but it looks like you've got the hang of it. They are definitely exteremely important to readers. The opening to Lolita by Nabokov hooked me and that's why I decided to read on, despite knowing the disturbing nature of the book's contents. I might say that that is one of the best first paragraphs ever.

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  13. Fab opening. I like the drip drip drip way you give the whammy. Nice.

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  14. A great first page is nice but not essential, I think, but it doesn't help if it's followed by 499 pages of crap.

    Cold As Heaven

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  15. That's me, Lauri. Drippy.

    So true, Cold As Heaven. You gotta have many, many, fabulous paragraphs after the opening.

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  16. Well, you left me wanting more...

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  17. Is there a reason you don't give Oliver's last name? My first thought was that Oliver was a dog.

    The chain draped across her was a real shocker, a great hook, but to make it really creepy, I want to know how Oliver felt. Did the sight of the woman fill him with peace, quiet his demons? Did it make him sad? Did it arouse him?

    I would begin the story with "[The woman] stirred from her sleep. Finally." That's the first change in the story and it appears to be about to precipitate something. The facts of her sleeping, his watching and her captivity are all back story.

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  18. ooh i really like the mesmerized/memorized bit

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  19. Openings are tough. I think I've lost count on how many times I've changed mine. My biggest issue is always the middle. I've found keeping the plot moving at a decent pace while not trying to leap to the end a bit of a challenge.

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  20. Great opening! And quite actual - at least, for me.
    I've been wandering awhile about where to start. I've done with the 1st draft, but I know I have to cut a lot from the first scene. I'm still debating where to begin...
    But your opening got me hooked! Questions, then more, then a shock (I, too thought that he'd be her saviour), so I'm really curious about what truly happened! Thanks for sharing! :)

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  21. You're right - the opening is important, but no one wants to be master of the first page only.

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  22. I like this, Helen! Very chilling. I always worry that I polish my beginnings too much and then they don't match the rest of my manuscript. I guess that tells me something, doesn't it!

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  23. Good stuff! I struggle with beginnings...

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  24. Good points, Mark. I'll give it a try.

    That's true, Elspeth. And the middle is the hardest work since you can't let things sag.

    Alex, you're right. You gotta start someone, but then you have to keep it up!

    You bring up a good point, Jan. The rest of the book has to measure up to the opening.

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  25. I love your opening - I'm totally creeped out :)

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  26. Forgot the most important in my previous comment, Helen: Great opening; scary and exciting. A woman in chains with bare buttocks, hay that cool stuff ... looking forward to read what follows >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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  27. Now that I'm coming to the end of my WIP, I know I have to rearrange the opening to make it punchier. I've been kicking around ideas on how to do that for the last couple of weeks. I totally agree with you! And I liked your opening. It was definitely suspenseful.

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  28. Cold As Heaven, you made me laugh.

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  29. I'm editing my own work, too. My first novel never got a good edit, so my publisher decided to edit it and reissue it with a new cover and all. The editor wanted to change the first line, but that was a line that popped into my head from nowhere and I don't change it. Found lots of other stuff to change, though. My editor did about 40% of the text and said "do the rest like that."

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  30. Oliver sounds like a one creepy man! I want to know more about him.

    Is he smart creepy? Mean creepy? Psycho creepy?

    Why is he like that?

    Great opening, Helen!

    My only suggestion would be to have Oliver focus on one specific detail about the woman as he's memorizing her. Eg: the oval mole under her right eye.

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  31. So, how's it coming, Author Guy? Are you doing the rest like that?

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  32. Hi Helen.
    Great opener! Yes, it is suspenseful. I hope my opening holds the reader's attention. I think it does, but we'll see. I'm sending out queries and trying to take deep breaths.

    I think I'll have to follow you.

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  33. I was thinking it's a romance with the first 3 sentences and then it got scary!

    Steamy Darcy

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  34. This is a great opening, Helen. It does set a tone and pulled me right in. So when will it be finished?

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  35. You hooked me, Helen. I want to read this book. :-)

    Lillie Ammann
    A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

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