Several authors write about the importance of Openings.
When starting a new story, Mary Mackie on Creative Editing, advises us that we should make sure the 5 Ws are somewhere in the first paragraphs. Who (character), where (place), when (time), why (motivation) and what (motif). Of course there’s an exception to this rule and we may want to leave something out deliberately, as a mystery to disclose later, but the main idea is that the reader doesn’t like to feel left out in too many of these things. Readers like to be part of the story as much as possible, for only then they can develop empathy towards the main character and imagine living in their shoes. That’s the only reason we read, to live in other people’s shoes, to have a break from our lives and our little world.
In Language of Fiction, Keith Sanger uses some sample openings from established authors, comments them, and advises us to pay attention to openings in books we read and loved. See rules that apply to them. Analise if they hold us in, how they do it, and discover why you wanted to read more. If you stopped reading, discover why. If your story has the same gender and voice, avoid the things that drove you out.
Now I understand how important an opening must be, specially in a world where we all move at fast-pace and readers as well as agents will often rely on those first pages to decide if they will keep reading us or drop the book in a forgotten place.
I love the opening of my story. The first line was probably the only thing I didn’t edit yet. My challenge has been delivering the rest of that Chapter as strong as that first line I wrote. I keep jumping into other Chapters ahead and coming back to that first Chapter to add one paragraph at a time, editing a lot. I think I’m constantly practicing what I learn from all the manuals and my writing is growing with me. I believe writing is an art we learn with practice and the more I write in English, more natural it becomes and words will flow easily with time. One good thing about writing in my second language is that I check myself much more often than a native speaker and I recognize cliches, and avoid them, easily.
So here’re some First Chapter Openings from some of my favorite authors, in very different voices and ways to draw us in:
“Jenny-May Butler, the little girl who lived across the road from me, went missing when I was a child.
The Gardaí launched an investigation, which led to their lengthy public search for her. For months every night the story was on the news, every day it was on the front pages of the papers, everywhere it was discussed in every conversation. The entire country pitched in to help; it was the biggest search for a missing person I, at ten years of age, had ever seen, and it seemed to affect everyone.”Cecelia Ahern, in A Place Called Here.(author of “PS: I Love You”)
” I knew it would begin with the end, and the end would look like death to these eyes. I had been warned.
Not these eyes. My eyes. Mine. This was me now.
The language I found myself using was odd, but it made sense. Choppy, boxy, blind, and linear. Impossibly crippled in comparison to many I’d used, yet still it managed to find fluidity and expression. Sometimes beauty. My language now. My native tongue.
With the truest instinct of my kind, I’d bound myself securely into the body’s center of thought, twined myself inescapably into its every breath and reflex until it was no longer a separate entity. It was me.”Stephenie Meyer, in The Host. (author of the Twilight saga)