Sunday, April 23, 2006


How important is the opening in your manuscript? It's the only first chance you get to catch a reader's attention whether that reader be an editor or a reader who's bought your book. Lots of people stand in the bookstore and open the book to the first page to read the beginning. It can make or break a sale.

Last week on Miss Snark I saw this quote attributed to Joshilyn Jackson, author of GODS IN ALABAMA and BETWEEN, GEORGIA, April 4, 2006, Faster Than Kudzu, writing about opening a book with immediate conflict. "I think the best way to let the reader meet your characters is to put them all in a room and then light one of them on fire."

The one opening line I've always remembered is from Julie Garwood's HONOR'S SPLENDOUR. "They meant to kill him." I immediately want to know who and why. Now, this book is copyrighted in 1987, so it's almost ten years since I first read it. Lately, I can't seem to remember much of anything, but this I remember.

One of the hardest things for me to learn was where to start my book. I always wanted to start at the beginning and in fiction, that's not the best place to start. Even today, I still sometimes struggle to find the right place.

Lest someone take my statements the wrong way, I'm certainly not saying all books have to open with a singular line to grab attention. Some of mine do. In "Be Mine" (winner of the 2002 National Reader's Choice Award) my novella in MY FUNNY VALENTINE my opening line is "My family is demented." In THE DUCHESS & THE DEVIL the opening is "The devil strolled through the door." My other three books don't start with a snappy one-liner, but hopefully, they still garner interest.

Do you have any memorable opening lines? How do you decide where to start your manuscript?


Betty said...

My favorite opening is actually 2 sentences. In Jean Auel's The Valley of Horses she starts it off with "She was dead. What did it matter if icy needles of rain flayed her skin raw." That one has stuck with me since I first read it in the 1980s. Thanks for the reminder to look closely at the opening of my current work in progress!

Carla Swafford said...

I have several favorites. One that happens to be on my desk is "Willie McCoy had been a jerk before he died. His being dead didn't change that. He sat across from me, wearing a loud plaid sport jacket." Laurell K. Hamilton's GUILTY PLEASURES. How attention getting is that? She's a master in writing in first person and I'm trying to learn.

So my favorite beginning from all of my own unpublished books is "It sucks to be me." From my THE ONES.

I know what you mean about trying to find the right place to begin. I can't say how many times I think I'm starting at the correct place and be half way or finished and realize it isn't working.

I catch myself wanting to "set up" the story when it's not needed.

Karen Beeching said...

One of my favorites was the tagline in "Lace" when the main character asks, "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"

That one always stuck with me. We already know she's pissed, and with that openinng question, holy smokes, you just know the answer has got to be good.