Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Openers

The summer months are when hubby and I often take walks during the later evening hours. We chat about our day, how the kids were and what they did, and what's on the agenda for tomorrow. Having four kids means planning. (But outlining is for another post.)

Recently I noticed that our opening statements, no matter what topic they're about, set the tone, mood, voice, and even our interest in continuing with that subject. The same goes for movie watching. The same goes for reading an article in the newspaper. And yes, even when reading a book.

What does that tell me? HOOKING the attention of any person must be done from the onset--the first few words, whether spoken or read, the initial glance. What makes me want more? The answer to that question can hinge on change, conflict, contemplating, and many other factors.

I'm currently taking an online writing course that explores the reasons some first sentences, first paragraphs, first pages, and first chapters work as opposed to those that don't. Let's concentrate on the first line.

There's something very wrong with me. Mercy, by Rebecca Lim.

This first sentence immediately puts me in question mode, which is something we all want our readers to do.  Being a sleuth, I then must read on to discover what's wrong with me and who me is. In this example, the hook is through voice, mystery, and even a little bit of inner conflict.

Two don'ts of CAUTION:
  1. Don't over utilize the questioning hook and confuse the reader. Give them just enough to taint their tongues and make them want more. 
  2. And, if you're using any form of action and/or reaction in the opening statement, make sure to SHOW not TELL the reader what's happening.
Number 2 is a lesson I learned during one of my lessons in my class. I'd originally began my opening statement like this: The last thing I expect to see is a dead guy as the bus drops me off on my secluded country road. More shocking, though, is that he touches me.

As Lynette Labelle and all her greatness explained to me, this is more telling than showing. She thought I was pretty close, but needed to tweak it a bit. I'm going to share what I came up with, which I rarely do. Lynette hasn't even peeked at it. This is right off the cuff from her adviceI watch the bus inch past me and down my secluded country road, the dead guy’s image repeating through each small window until all that’s left is vacant space between us.

Perfection? Maybe not. But it's definitely switched from telling to showing.

So, what spice does the opening sentence need? Firstly, relax and don't over analyze. Know your main character like your best friend. In my experience, this truly helps. But do keep this in mind: An opening sentence does it's job when it gives active ingredients about the main character and his/her world that's interesting, unique, and will resonate with a reader.

Now look at your WIP. Do you know why it would hook your reader? Does it? If not, no worries. You can always hand it over to a supportive beta reader and then edit. Remember: our work is never set in stone.


  1. My opening has gone through a lot editing to get it right. And this included feedback from my CP and beta readers.

    Great post, Sheri!

  2. Openings are hard and I usually tweak it when I'm done with the manuscript. I like the idea of capturing an image that needs focus and the manuscript evidently strengthens that focus. Great post!

  3. Yeah, E. Arroyo - tweaking the beginning once the manuscript is completed is a great way to find those elements needed to capture attention and keep it. :)

  4. Ooh - I really like your new opening line. So intriguing. I think opening everything (line, paragraph, chapter) are the absolute hardest parts of the book. Great post!

  5. Great post! Openings can be tricky. Sometimes they come easily and sometimes I rewrite, rewrite, rewrite... Great advice though. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I've written my best opening lines after I write, "The End." You're class is wonderful, Sheri. You've passed along some excellent writing tips.

  7. Great lesson! Not sure where my latest opening line would fit, but I love it so much I'm not sure I want to change it. It's up in Jessie's First Five Pages Group on YAlitChat.

  8. Thanks C.Lee. And you are so correct about the best first lines developing after The End. I need to heed that advice right now and just write!

    AE - You just rawk!

  9. So glad you all are back! And yes, this seems like a great class. First lines are a big pickle for me. And mine has literally changed 54 times. Sigh.

  10. Good information. First lines can be so tricky for me.

  11. Great tips on openings. They can be so tough to get right. I can stop fiddling with my own. :D


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