Saturday, March 2, 2013

Does Your Story Have An Awesome Beginning? by Vonnie Davis

Editors tell us they want dropped into the action from the "get-go." At a writers' retreat, an editor told me she expects dialogue on the first page. Another said she gives the writer three pages to make her care before she hits the delete button. Expectations like this make us tighten our writing--or curl up in the fetal position under our desks.

Our opening hooks must be powerful and sharp. Yet they must also showcase our creativity. Often this is hard when our storyline requires we set the scene. How much detail should we use? How can we pull our reader into the moment of our story--and keep them there? To this end, we examine the strength of every word, the need for every comma, the way we present our main character. We write and rewrite until we get it just so...only to go back and change it another six times.

Our opening hooks often define our characters or showcase the literary world we've created for our readers' enjoyment.
Take the beginning paragraph of my Storm's Interlude, I needed to set the scene:
Someone swaggered out of the moonlit night toward Rachel. Exhausted from a long day of driving, she braked and blinked. Either she was hallucinating or her sugar levels had plummeted. Maybe that accounted for the male mirage, albeit a very magnificent male mirage, trekking toward her. She peered once more into the hot July night at the image illuminated by her headlights. Sure enough, there he was, cresting the hill on foot—a naked man wearing nothing but a black cowboy hat, a pair of boots and a go-to-hell sneer.
But what if our story takes place in another era?
Gunfire jarred Annalee Gallagher. She straightened in her seat, her heart pounding. Another bullet zinged past the stagecoach, and the older couple sitting across from her gasped in unison. Heaven help her, she’d escaped one nightmare only to find herself in the middle of another.
Or in a different country like the second book of my romantic suspense trilogy?
It wasn’t the hardened man who eased his motorcycle to the curb that snagged Gwen Morningstar’s attention. Nor was it the wide spread of his shoulders or the way his black jeans hugged his muscled thighs like a pair of lover’s hands. For sure, it wasn’t the long scar on his right cheek or the small silver cross that dangled from his ear. No, it was his pristine-white angel wings that dragged on the pavement.
Odd that Parisians hurried past without so much as a second glance. As if seeing a mountain of a man riding a Harley with angel wings flowing down his back was as common as citizens carrying unwrapped crusty loaves of bread in their hands. No one gawked as their feet tattooed a staccato beat on the busy pavements of the City of Light. Few things fazed Parisians, it seemed.
Can opening the story with internal dialogue work? I used it in Back Where You Belong: 

What the hell?

Tyler Desmond whirled away from the shot he was about to make at the pool table to grasp for whatever caused the sudden, stinging pain at the back of his neck. When his fingers closed around a dart, he yanked the offending object out, searching through the crowd in the Lonesome Steer Honky Tonk for the bastard who dared throw one at him.
In a short story, I needed to establish some things about my heroine right away.
      Her lungs stopped working. This couldn’t be happening. Hope Morningstar read the words on her cell’s screen once more. Black spots danced across her vision field, and she finally breathed again. “He broke up with me!” Her gaze jumped from the screen to her sister’s questioning face. “Barclay broke up with me…in a text!”
Gracie snatched the cell from Hope. “Let me see.”
Hope rested her elbows on the table and dropped her face into her hands. This can’t be happening—not again.
I can't tell you what version you're reading of each. I struggled with every one. What about you? How hard is it for you to create your opening hook?


Ana Morgan said...

Incredibly hard, Vonnie. I've worked on my opening line, paragraph, and page for months. I think I've got them good now...

morgan said...

Vonnie and Ana,
You both have wonderful beginnings. Picked up a free book and read the first page, closed it, because the hero sounded silly. Who wants a silly hero?

Classic opening includes violence, religion, sex, and least that is what I was told at a workshop.