Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#185) -- Story Openings

This one's from one of the panel attendees during FandomFest at Louisville, Kentucky, this past weekend.

What advice do you have for story openings?

That's not a knife. It's a machete, but you get the point.
1. Start in the middle of the highpoint of physical or emotional intensity. Don't walk up to the door, open it, and notice the mirror in the foyer and the reflection of your date's fancy dress. Instead, start with the man with the knife poking at your prom date's neck.

2. Use strong verbs and nouns. "Was" and other weak verbs are common for story openings but are typically so much weaker than more powerful words. (This doesn't mean "fancy" words, just "powerful" words -- there is a difference.)

3. Use (as much as is possible) simple subject-verb construction. "The knife stabbed Bill's knee and sliced clean through the bone where his old football injury still hurt" is a lot more effective that "Where the knife had stabbed Bill's old wound became a new area of pain for the former all-star quarterback." Someone (or something) does something. Not an abstract concept that then linking verbs to some adjective- and adverb-laden concept. (Unless you're Henry James or James Joyce, of course.)

4. Listen to the sounds in your sentence. Hard sounds stop readers like a punch. Soft sounds flow like a dance. Choose which you need based on the action of your opening.