Monday, October 14, 2013

Great Starts

How do you like to start your stories? My favorite start is dialogue. My editor's favorite is action. We both agree that the story must start with a bang and hook the reader in the first fifty words or less.

For instance, from the short story "Truth or Dare" my original opening was:
"I hate you!" Sylvie Long muttered, scurrying down the cracked sidewalk. 

Now I really liked this because questions are instantly created in the reader's mind--who does she hate? Why? Why is she scurrying down the sidewalk? And 'hate' is a strong word, with much emotional power.

Under my editor's advice, the opening became: Sylvia Long heard Ned stomp up the steps and into the kitchen. 

At first glance, I cared less for this opening. But looking closer, I see there are questions here as well. Why is Ned stomping? What is going to happen between Sylvia and Ned (the man who stomps)?  The second opening has an advantage, too, since it introduces two of the three characters in this three-character short story, and the introduction is instantaneous.

By the way, Silvia Long still hates Ned. But something physical is going to happen before she voices that word. The build up makes her verbalization which comes later, even more effective than using the dialogue at the beginning.

When I teach creative writing, I advise my students to make a great opening, one that hooks the reader. The editor or the reader must be grabbed by the throat and pulled into the story ASAP. If that doesn't happen, the reader may only read the first line. As writers, we want the reader to read line one, paragraph one, page one, chapter one, and so on.

So take a look at your own story starts and ask yourself, does this make readers ask a question to which they must have an answer? If you start with dialogue, try a 'physical' beginning and see how it works. If you start with the 'physical' beginning, reverse that and try dialogue. 

Truth or Dare & Other Tales launches toward the end of October! Visit VJ Schultz on Facebook or at Amazon Author Central for updates and more information as it becomes available. 


11 comments:

  1. Openings make me absolutely crazy. So much hinges on those first few lines, and it's almost impossible to decide which approach is best.

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    1. Yes, I do believe much of it is style.

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  2. I agree. Openings have to be fast and create questions for the readers.

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    1. Yes. In changing my opening in the story I talked about, the whole tone changed a bit even though the story outcome is the same.

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  3. I never thought of that. I usually start with action. I'm going to try your way. Excited.

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    1. Great! Please let me know how it works for you.

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  4. I'm a fan of dialogue openings as well. Good thoughts, thanks for sharing.

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    1. You are welcome. Because of my editor's comments about my openings, I am more aware of how I'm starting a story. It is now my feeling that using a variety (physical action / dialogue) of opening forms would be best. It is good not to get stuck in a rut...and I hadn't realized I was.

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  5. Hooks have always been important, but they are even more important now because we are bombarded with so much information. We have to hook the readers right away. Readers no longer have the patience to wait for a book to "get good." I certainly don't.

    Descriptive, active verbs, like you used (stomped, scurrying, muttered) are key. Those types of words convey emotion as well as action.

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  6. Personally, I like your dialogue opening better but that's probably because I love dialogue. And it hooked me right away.

    It's fun to try different methods to hook the reader. Crazy fun for writers--or doing this sometimes just drives us crazy.

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