Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ask O: How Do I Deliver a Tantalizing Opening? Part Two In Medias Res

Happy Wednesday before Christmas, my writing friends!

Today we finish our discussion on those muy importante opening scenes. Last week we covered a few things to avoid. Today we'll look at some examples of how to make your openings enticing.

In Medias Res
I wanted to look smart so I threw in a Latin phrase. What it means is, “in the middle of things.” And that’s a great spot for an opening should start. Whether the opening is quick-paced or slow or whether it focuses on character, setting, or plot, a reader loves jumping into something already zipping along. Examples:

Character: From the book Black by Christian author, Ed Decker.

Carlos Missirian was his name. One of his many names.
Born in Cyprus.
The man who sat at the opposite end of the long dining table, slowly cutting into a thick red steak, was Valborg Svensson. One of his many, many names.
Born in hell.

Feel the suspense? In just a few lines, the author has fashioned language and striking images (the “thick red steak”) to dump us into a room with a dangerous character. How will we get out? What’s Valborg going to do? We must keep reading to find out.

Setting: The delightful opening from Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.

I jumped out of bed that morning with one question in my mind—sun or fog? Usually it was fog in January in Holland, dank, chill, and gray. But occasionally—on a rare and magic day—a white winter sun broke through.

We know by the title of this chapter that the character anticipates a birthday party. We feel her jumping out of bed. We seek the sky for the weather. We want to go to the party!

Plot: From Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers

“But if he thought the woman was being murdered—”
“My dear Charles,” said the young man with the monocle, “it doesn’t do for people, especially doctors, to go about ‘thinking’things. They may get into frightful trouble.”

If there was any doubt we were in a murder mystery, there’s not now.

The main goal of an opening is to drag your potential reader from her own humdrum existence into a world she can't resist. And that's just what plunging her into the middle of a well-crafted world does.

In closing, have fun with your openings. Create your best, most exciting opening possible ... then imagine how it could be even more enticing. And don't forget to avoid back story, flashbacks, and too much description.

Happy Writing and Merry Christmas, my writing friends.


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