Monday, June 07, 2010

Openings Moved

When I wrote Dismembering the Past, the first draft started this way:
The first things Kelly noticed when she raised the lid on the freezer were the eyes. Eighteen glazed eyes reflected light from the frost-encrusted bulb. Heads and necks bent backward and blank faces tilted upward toward the sliding baskets of ice cream and ground beef.

Propping open the freezer door, she turned to the elderly man and woman behind her. "She killed all nine?"

Hoyt nodded. Sparse sprigs of hair fluttered around his ears. He shifted his balance and limped a half-step forward, pushing the silver-colored walker in front of him. Once he re-established equilibrium, he leaned heavily on the walker's metal frame and looked at Kelly. His left eye focused on her face; the right one remained closed except for a black slit barely visible through a curtain of snow-white lashes. "Yep, every last one."

"And they were like this when you found them? The police didn't alter anything?"

He turned his head and spat on the cement garage floor. "Police didn't do nothing. That's why Dot insisted we hire a detective."

"Now, Hoyt, that's not exactly true." Dot stepped around her brother-in-law and turned her watery eyes in Kelly's direction. Dot's tightly coiffed hair seemed to be held in place by invisible rollers. "They came out, Kelly, and talked to us. We gave them a picture of Mabel, but they said there wasn't much they could do since Mabel was a grown woman. Said there wasn't no law against a grown woman killing all her chickens, then hightailing it away from home."
Not bad. I liked it. I thought it had a good first line that would hook a reader. It had a twist that might make someone want to keep reading. But … maybe too many adjectives, too much description, for the opening of the book. Plus, it really wasn’t the focus of the book. It was a secondary story. I edited that scene and kept it, but didn't make it Chapter One.

The opening chapter is important - it focuses on the main character or the antagonist; it lays the groundwork for the main thread of the book; it grabs the reader and pulls him/her into the story; it tells the reader what kind of book this will be … one or all of these.

I eventually set aside this manuscript. But to see how I eventually started it, go to: Openings, a post I did back in May.

Does your opening lines come easily? Do you write and re-write?
TweetIt from HubSpot


  1. I love that opening line. Eyes in the freezer! Oooh! Chills!

    I hate writing my opening lines. They make me freeze up. Ahhhh!

  2. It was a nice hook, but you're right--if it's a subplot then why not go with the main plot, instead? I like the alternate you did in the other post. :)

  3. Yes, it was a great hook; I thought, "Uh-uh a serial killer here."

    But since it's a subplot, it would be a very good start to later chapter in book.

    Many times, opening lines do come easily to me, though they may be further down in the story before I figure out it's the sentence to use to start the piece. :)

    So, yes, I do write and re-write.

    Do like how you revised your opening!

  4. No, I've rewritten the first chapter at least 20 times, and I still don't know if I'm happy with it. The first chapter is an event in my life to set up the unusual journey that follows. I want it to read like a Dean Koontz novel, but it also has to pull the reader into my personality and experience. I want the reader to feel something: an emotion, disbelief, denial, fear.

    I think the first chapter has changed so many times because I'm writing better. I hope so.

    I liked both your openings.

  5. usually my first chapters are too interior. I love them but they aren't where the story starts. I'm hoping that isn't true with the one I'm working on now but I can't be sure! I read somewhere if your book starts with your protagonist lying in bed thinking about the day to come - axe it - if she awakes from a dream - axe it - if she ponders the future while staring out the window - you got it - axe it!

  6. My original opening line for chapter one is still there.
    However, I was encouraged to go back and write a very short prologue to set up the back story and start the book off with a bang.

  7. I've always struggled with the opening of my books and usually begin writing a few pages from where the story actally begins.

  8. Chickens! Well you had me with this one. I thought there were 9 human bodies in there, or human heads at least! That was a great twist going on.

    I start my stories in the thick of some critical action that will influence the rest of the story.

  9. Simple answer: NO!
    I write, edit, rewrite. Again and again. The opening is rarely easy for me.

    Now I'm going to check out your revised one.

  10. The opening to my memoir changed many times over the course of the drafts and re-writes. I still think it could have been better, but hey, you have to move on at some point, yes? I like both your openings, Helen.

  11. I write and rewrite my openings. If I have ten drafts, I'll have ten different openings.

    This is an example of an opening that would turn me away from the book. Four people are looking at body parts in a freezer. Which one is confused about what they are? Which one doesn't know they are chickens? The reader. This is a "gotcha" opening. It's not a mystery. The mystery begins in the last line: "...there wasn't no law against a grown woman killing all her chickens and hightailing it away from home." That should be the opening line because it represents a change on the part of a character, Mabel, and it poses a question for both the detective and the reader. Why would someone suddenly kill their chickens and disappear?

  12. My opening lines look nothing like the first draft. Heck, the whole chapter looks nothing like the first draft. ;)

  13. Great start, but I agree: if it's a subplot then best not to open with it.

    I am struggling right now with my opening line. It's very flat and needs a lot of punching up, but as much as I stare at it, I can't think of anything!

  14. Oh Helen, great re-write! The first beginning was good, but the edited version is AWESOME!

  15. "Police didn't do nothing"

    To me this intuitively means that the police did something. I know this kind of double negatives are sometimes used in English, but I always find it strange, maybe because we don't use it in Winterlandic.

    I liked you opening, Helen. I don't think you have too much of anything, neither adjectives nor description. Both simplistic and complex styles may work well, if it's done consistently, and with an individual voice.

    Anyway, creativity is about breaking rules. Maybe that's the most important >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  16. Both openings were very well done, and I loved the details of the old man and the place and the sister-in-law. There was something very compelling about those people that came through the details.

    That said, I do agree that the other opening is better for setting up the novel. And the reader can enjoy this scene in another place.

    I usually end up chopping the first 8 to 10 pages of a book so I can start in the thick of things.

  17. Opening lines come fairly easily to me...its the ending lines that send me into a dither :-)

  18. Well, it definitely got my attention! And my first lines get worked over considerably before I'm satisfied with it! They may come easy, but then I rework them to make them better!

  19. I write and re-write. If I keep the original opening sentence, it is somewhere else in the manuscript.

  20. Cold as Heaven, I had her say "Police didn't do nothing." because she and Hoyt are country folk (and we talk that way sometimes).

    A lot of us tend to end up cutting pages so that the book starts in the action. You'd think we'd learn!

  21. Opening line? Most of the time, no, it doesn't come easy. Or if I have one, I go back and change it later. Like you, I've started in one place and it becomes a chapter later in the book.

    But I'd love to know what the glazed eyes were attached to in that freezer, lol!

  22. They were attached to the chickens, Sia.

  23. That's a great snippet! Love the twist.

    I tend to let the opening roll around in my mind for a bit before I start. I may change it anyway, but I like eliminating tons of options before I start typing.

  24. You've definitely got a hook there!

    Most times, my first sentence stays. Every other sentence in the darn thing gets tweaked or deleted or added. And the beginning gets changed most of all because so much rides on it.

  25. I usually think my opening lines are amazing. Then somewhere around draft 2, I figure out that while the line or scene itself may be great, it isn't doing the job I need it to. So my openings always change, eventually.

  26. I know what you're saying, Miriam.

  27. Excellent writing Helen. I enjoyed your intro, and for me nothing comes easier--the opening or anything else.

  28. Story of my life. Write and rewrite. But I love it. Wouldn't have it any other way. Eventually I'll get there, with the help og my editors.

    Stephen Tremp

  29. I love the opening line and ultimately think you did the right thing in making it appear later in the work. Although I truly have no qualm with subplots getting dibs in the opening as long as it works well. :)

    I write and rewrite the opening more than any other section of the work. Current wip's original opening is now somewhere around page 15 and for no other reason than needing a quicker immersion into the world than my previous opening enabled. Thanks for sharing, Helen!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...