Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.
QUESTION: How do you test your story’s opening?
Wendy Thomas: First of all, I sit on it. After I write my story, I give it time away to do a little bit of maturing. Because I’ve got tech writing in my blood and I feel comfortable with plotting (as opposed to pantsing) once the story and I have both had time to settle down, I go over the beginning with a checklist that looks very much like the rubrics you had to use when writing high school papers.
- Is there a hook?
- Have I introduced the hero?
- Is there conflict?
- Have I created tension?
- Is there too much back story?
- Have I grounded the scene by including descriptions from all five senses?
- Have I given the reader a reason to turn the page?
Those first few paragraphs can make or break the story. You have to be sure you’ve hit all the highlights and, for me, the best way I know of doing this is to write my first draft, give it time, and then revise with what’s missing according to my list.
Jamie Wallace: I’m still learning about beginnings. I’ll probably always be learning about them. The story openings I like best are the ones that make a promise. It doesn’t have to be an overt promise or a specific promise; it just has to make me feel like something is going to happen. More specifically, it has to make me feel like something worth experiencing is going to happen. The first few lines of a story or pages of a book need to whisper in my ear about a secret that will be revealed, a mystery that will be solved, or a discovery that will be made. A good opening captures my interest and my imagination and burrows into my mind, pulsing there like the beat of my heart with a quietly urgent drumbeat of possibility. I know I’ve read a good beginning when I swear I can hear the book calling to me from across the room. And then, dear gods of literature, I pray only that the rest of the story is as good as those first few lines.
Julie Hennrikus: Interesting question. Let me tell you about the beginning of Just Killing Time, my debut novel in the Clock Shop Mystery series, due out October 6. I wrote a proposal for this cozy series, which included the first three chapters. Those first three chapters got me the gig. The first chapter was from the point of view of the person who got killed–the inciting incident for the entire book (and series). I got a lot of “well written”, but a lot of push back on the beginning once the entire novel was finished. It wasn’t the beginning of a cozy mystery. Too dark, and it set the wrong tone. So, I changed the whole thing, and cut that chapter entirely.
In a previous novel (in a drawer, may see the light of day at some point), I kept getting “slow” and “drags” comments. So I kept cutting the beginning, and cutting the beginning, and cutting the beginning. The final beginning was the old page 50. You have to be ruthless–if you lose the reader at the beginning, or set up a false promise (great analogy Jamie), it doesn’t work.