Monday, November 19, 2012

The Opening Hook, Part 2

Last week, I talked about how to utilize your first sentence with respect to where you begin your story. Today, I want to expand that into the first paragraph and the first page.

Once you’ve written the best first sentence you possibly can for your story, your work isn’t done. Not by a long shot. I can’t count how many stories I’ve read that have had amazing zingers of a first line, and then fizzle a few paragraphs later. That could happen if the story didn’t start in the right place, but it also could happen because the author didn’t build upon that great opening.

The opening to a story is like leading your reader up a staircase. Each step is built upon the last, and each step gives the reader some kind of reward or motivation to keep climbing. If your opening levels out at all, say, with a bunch of backstory, then the reader is given the chance to look around and wonder why he’s climbing all these stairs. If there’s no payoff, he’s going to turn around and go back where he came from (i.e., put your book down). Each sentence is built upon the previous, ensnaring your reader and gluing him to your pages.

I found a couple examples of first paragraphs that I found very effective.
“Bronwyn Alessia St. Vincent Clare!”
Four names, five words, one pissed off werewolf. The math in this particular equation never came out in my favor.
--Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
This is so simple, and yet it hooked me right away because of the sheer amount of information it conveys, but it also leaves out key pieces. So I wanted to keep reading to find out more.
Prayer candles flicker in my bedroom. The Scriptura Sancta lies discarded, pages crumpled, on my bed. Bruises mark my knees from kneeling on the tiles, and the Godstone in my navel throbs. I have been praying—no, begging—that King Alejandro de Vega, my future husband, will be ugly and old and fat.
--The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
The first three sentences didn’t really do much for me here. Pretty basic, interesting but not especially gripping. But that fourth sentence? Zing! Why on earth would someone want her future husband to be ugly, old, and fat? I had to keep reading to find out.

Here’s an example of a first page that I found highly effective. Though, I do have to admit I was hooked from the first sentence. :) But I think this is a perfect example of how each sentence is built upon the previous. Whenever I can't figure out how to write the beginning to my story, I examine this first page. It always helps.
It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shear’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog. The points of the fork must have gone all the way through the dog and into the ground because the fork had not fallen over. I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason, like cancer, for example, or a road accident. But I could not be certain about this.
 I went through Mrs. Shear’s gate, closing it behind me. I walked onto her lawn and knelt beside the dog. I put my hand on the muzzle of the dog. It was still warm.
--The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
This concept of sentences building upon each other doesn’t apply just to the beginning. It applies to the entire book. Everything needs to be there for a reason, and that reason needs to be clear. It’s just the most crucial in the beginning because that’s when it’s easiest for a reader to set the book down.

Do you have any favorite beginnings to share? 

1 comment:

Kelly Hashway said...

These are all great books to use as examples, Tabitha. :)

Happy Thanksgiving!