Novel Openings, What's The Secret?

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Hey Everyone,

Thanks again for sharing your own approaches and experiences regarding plotting your characters, fascinating.
If I haven't picked your Writer Heads enough. I'm going to pick them again but this time it's Openings.
(I think BrainPicks like these may become a regular thing from me BTW)

I don't know about you? But the difference between picking up a book in a bookstore and buying it. For me has to be the first page - It has to captivate me instantly, literally prepare the bait, throw the line and I'm caught (I'm a goner) off to the till I go with the book in one hand and my purse in the another.

So, let me ask you both as a Reader and as a Writer:

What does it for you opening wise?
What stops you from putting that book you picked up back down?
As a writer what openings do you prefer and create?


Here are the top SEVEN ways to book openings:

  1. Don't start talking about the weather.
  2. Draw your readers' attention.
  3. Put something in motion - Is my current opening in my work - Mr.Grey Sky (Was in the Writing Room)
  4. Use short paragraphs and direct sentences.
  5. Set the time and space coordinates.
  6. Specify the rules.
  7. Leave the backstory for later.
  8. Learn from the best - Get JK Rowling on here an author who is traditionally published - Has sold millions - Is well known and Her books have been turned into movies - I will listen wholeheartedly to anything she has to say. (Slight envy too LOL)
* And I think it's so important when sharing our thoughts and feedback in whatever field should come from our own experiences and credentials.*

Here is what made me buy...

'The Priory Of The Orange Tree' By Samantha Shannon yesterday in Waterstones.

The stranger came out of the sea like a water ghost, barefoot and wearing the scars of his journey. He walked as if drunk through the haze of mist that clung like spidersilk to Seiiki.
The stories of old said water ghosts were doomed to live in silence. That their tongues had shrivelled, along with their skin, and that all that dressed their bones was seaweed. That they would lurk in the shadows, waiting to drag the unwary to the heart of the Abyss.


It got me well and truly hooked, superlative writing.

Please feel free to share a few lines of any openings that appeal to you both as readers and writers to correlate with your opinions and thoughts.

Alix :)
 
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I've been delving into first lines today too. There are so many good lines. Although, the modern opening seems a different beast than what it once was.

PS. that's a lovely opening :)
 
For me, I think something has to happen, or better still be happening, in the first few lines, and it has to be happening to someone important to the story.
Classic examples are, for a crime novel, opening with the victim being killed, or discovered is the usual fare. A bit passé, maybe, but if it's done well it still hooks you in from page one.
But also an odd first line that makes you think again about the world you are entering is to my taste. A perfect example of that, albeit quite old, is this:

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
George Orwell, Nineteen Eight-Four

Immediately you sense this is a world like ours but subtly different. (Sorry about the weather bit!)

Other great opening subtly give a theme to the whole story, eg.

"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I have been turning over in my mind ever since.
'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you have.'"

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.

Or the opening line from H G Wells' The War of the Worlds.
"No one would have believed ... etc."
Where he mentions about humans being watched from space as we would watch microscopic bacteria in a drop of water. Of course this is a deliberate foreshadowing of the ending where it is the very same micro-bacteria that infect and kill off the Martians. Brilliant stuff.

Having said all that, I still struggle, as many writer do, at making my own openings as attention grabbing.
 
Having said all that, I still struggle, as many writer do, at making my own openings as attention grabbing.
I think that is a sword we are all repeatedly hit with, wooden of course and it doesn't half give us headaches as writers and that's why I think this BrainPick will be very useful in that regard.
Because, personally I think its true what they say - "In order to become a pronounced writer you must be a persistent reader..."
 
We seem to forget that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were writers, non-fiction memoir writers And my favourite opening is this from John:
In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
I'm just taken in by the simplicity of it, I guess. The first sentence in the bible has also the same effect on me.

My favourite fiction opening is from this novel and everyone knows it:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

I find it hard to find anything I like as much in today's books. Having said that, I must, with great regret admit, I have no gift myself in finding a good opening for any of my works. :(
 
Try this:
“It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers
 
@E G Logan
I don't know what to say to that one...It's certainly a thought-provoking opening. However, I'm not sure if that would appeal to everyones taste.
 
How about this one?

"We should start back," Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. "The wildlings are dead."
Do the dead frighten you?" Ser Waymar Royce asked with just the hint of a smile.
Gared did not rise to the bait. He was an old man, past fifty, and he had seen the lordlings come and go. "Dead is dead," he said. "We have no business with the dead."

Its a prologue and it is 'A Game of Thrones By George R.R. Martin.'
 
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It seems the strongest openings are the single sentence mind-openers ... I'm not sure I have one of those as a first sentence - a para is what it takes me to give some sense to the story.

Looks like I'll have to work on first lines, as opposed to openings. First lines, then short para opening, perhaps ... this has been very interesting for me.
 
@CageSage
I'm glad it's helping my fellow writers.
Why don't you put up an opening on here that appeals to you the most as either a reader or writer? Or even better, both.
And as they say - 'A problem shared is a problem halved.' :)
 
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The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
From William Gibson's Neuromancer.

And this slightly crass line from Jay Kristoff's Nevernight:

People often shit themselves when they die.
Their muscles slack and their souls flutter free and everything else just... slips out.


And from Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth:

The small boys came early to the hanging.
It was still dark when the first three or four of them sidled out of the hovels, quiet as cats in their felt boots.
 
An interesting exercise I once did with a writing group was to take the first line of a poem and use it kickstart a story. The one I chose was:
"Twilight. Red in the West" from The Wild Duck By John Masefield. The story I wrote from it ended up being the first thing I ever had published—though I did end up tweaking the opening line to avoid any copyright issues.
 
And any exercise that sparks creativity and inventiveness is a bonus, even if it is the first line or first paragraph of a novel :)
 
@Steve C, Please do contribute. More the better, that’s the meaning of this thread to help in a way but at the same time encourage self-help. Like I mentioned in a earlier post. I think personally, In order to write well you to need read plenty :)
 
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OK here goes with 2 different openings saying much the same thing. Let me know what you think.

A week without sex was unusual for Agi but four in a row so rare Megan felt it her duty to help her friend out of her manless spell as she referred to such occasional bouts of celibacy.

Agi’s sex life or rather the lack of it concerned Megan. A month without a single groan of pleasure from her bedroom was a record so when Larry told her about his new friend, Jed, she sensed the potential for a spot of matchmaking.
 
I'm with @Leonora, for me , the first is more immediate and direct and would benefit from some commas or full stops. As an opening or the first line of a novel at the moment is too long.
 
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I'm going to confuse you. I like the second. The ideas are clearer. Perhaps if you tighten the first as suggested above, I'd change my mind.

One tip, if I may? Who is your protag? Because as the sentences are currently structured, you're subtlety signalling to the reader that Agi is your protag by mentioning her first. On second read, I realised it was Megan, but a first line isn't a place you want someone to stumble, you want a smooth read. Try reading the sentences out loud, see if that helps.
 
This thread is so opportune. I am playing around with my opening chapter and specifically my opening paragraph at the moment.
I am new here so not sure if I am allowed to post a couple of samples for discussion or not.

Very nearly Steve. 20 posts and you should have access to the writing groups. Nearly there :)
 
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