Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Open With a Bang!

Once upon a time, stories opened with a section of what I’ll call setup. In the first few pages, or at least few paragraphs, the author introduced the reader to the main character and the storyworld. Then, the real story would begin.

This formula has gone the way of fairy tales. The society we live in today is one of instant gratification. Almost unanimously, readers expect to be hurled into the action of the story. Action is king when it comes to starting a story that grabs the reader’s attention.

Even more than just action, the opening of a story must deliver something unique or at least a different spin. It was a dark and stormy night, will get you nowhere with today’s reader.

So how do we deliver an effective opening without leaving the reader with nagging questions? These guidelines will help you craft a compelling first page and propel your reader into the midst of the action.

  • Give the reader enough of the setting to anchor the storyworld.
  • Introduce the main character through the action, dialogue and internal thoughts. This is critical because it’s when the reader begins to sympathize with the character.
  • Hint at what is at stake in the story to come.

When deciding how to open your story, be sure take genre into account. A Suspense book will generally start on the run, while a Romance needs to have a meeting between the hero and heroine. In a Mystery, the opening is . . . well, mysterious and in Fantasy/Science Fiction, more time is spent on the storyworld. The best way to determine the norm for a genre is to study books currently on the market. Here are some I like.

The way I see it, life is a jelly donut. You don’t really know what it’s about until you bite into it. And then, just when you decide it’s good, you drop a big glob of jelly on your best T-shirt.
Ten Big Ones
By Janet Evanovich

I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.
Dead Until Dark
By Charlaine Harris

Keryn Wills was in the shower when she figured out how to kill Josh Trenton.
Double Vision
By Randall Ingermanson

I’ve given you three of my favorite openings. Now it’s your time to share. What are some openings that have reached out and grabbed you?


  1. Well, I am at a loss, but I do love your three openings! My favorite is the first one.

  2. Great post. It makes me wonder if some day we might revert back to the former way of things as in the once upon a time set up. I wouldn't mind a balance of the two.

  3. Janet, thanks for dropping by!
    Carla, I know what you mean, when the pendulum swings widest I like the results the least.

  4. One of my very favorites, especially the first line.
    Bitter February, within and without. Mood to match the weather; raw and overcast, near to freezing. I walked from the weighing room to the parade ring at Newbury races trying not to search for the face that wouldn't be there, the intimately known face of Danielle de Brescou, to whom I was formally engaged, diamond ring and all.
    From Bolt by Dick Francis.