Before getting to another chapter from my book, I want to thank those who flogged the opening of the first chapter to my WIP, The Hollywood Unmurders. You helped me see with fresher eyes. For those of you who are interested, and because the chapter below deals with kitty-cats in action, you can see the entire chapter with revisions in the first 16 lines here.
Here’s Start with kitty-cats in action from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells.
Opening your story in media res, the midst of something happening (versus placidly setting the scene), is key to engaging a reader. For example:
Hairball raced across the clover, leaping honeybees, never taking his gaze from Barfie, praying her grip would hold.
This opening raises immediate story questions that a reader will want to know the answers to—why is Hairball racing? Who is Barfie? What is Barfie? What do they have to do with each other? What’s Barfie's scary-sounding problem?
Unusual circumstances added to the action intensify interest. You’ve heard of “fish out of water” stories…how about “cat in water?”
Up to his dewclaws in the cold wetness of the stream, Hairball wanted to yowl his discomfort, but he had to choke back all sound and keep his eyes on his prey.
Opening with action that depicts a significant challenge to a character will keep a reader moving down the page, too.
Hairball eyed the tree trunk's towering height. It was an impossible climb. He was too small, too weak. But if he didn’t climb, Barfie would fall to her death.
Plenty of story questions raised there. But we can do better. Now let’s open with action combined with jeopardy for increased tension.
Barfie dug her claws into the branch, struggling to keep her balance. She dared not look down; her last glance at the dizzying height had almost sent her tumbling. Her ears caught a cracking sound…the branch was tearing away from the trunk.
Yeeks! Now to really create opening tension by combining action and jeopardy with conflict.
Hairball arched his back and hissed at the beast. It was easily three times his size, an alien species that had been stalking him and now crouched, poised to spring. There was no place to run. He extended his claws…
Don’t get me wrong. Not all openings have to begin with physical action…but they MUST begin to raise story questions immediately. Remember that thoughts are action, too.
Hairball wondered if Barfie’s soul now rested on one of the puffy pillows in the sky, freed from her broken body. How would he face her mother after he’d sworn they would be safe?
Approaches you can use to kick-start your novel include:
- Start with something happening.
- Start with action in unusual circumstances.
- Open with action that challenges the character.
- Combine action with jeopardy for the character.
- Add conflict to action and jeopardy.
For what it's worth.
ARCHIVES . © 2010 Ray Rhamey