I’ve been reading a wonderful serialized story by writer friend, Lance Burson called The Ballad of Helene Troy. He posts segments every few days at “My Blog can Beat Up Your Blog” and eventually this serial will become a full-length novel.
Recently, he posted the first 333 words of the story. It was quite brilliant that he write a new beginning considering I’ve been hooked on his story for sometime already. I then thought about what his starting lines revealed, and why they were so perfect.
What author doesn’t dream of an opening that will gain them the recognition of “Call me Ishmael”? The first lines set the tone and reveal key elements to a story. Without these elements, the story could fall flat within pages.
I’m no expert on this topic, but given the genre I write (erotic short stories), it’s important to build momentum toward climax within a limited time. The opening lines and paragraphs are therefore critical and should reveal the following:
1. Distinctive voice
2. Point of View
3. Basic Plot (with some characterization)
These elements basically make up a complete story, but not all of them are exposed in their entirety upfront. A successful opener does not need to be complicated, but it will entice the reader to want more and continue reading. Revealing something about the protagonist’s nature or introducing a setting can be done without going overboard. It’s better to build momentum than to disappoint with an opener that over promises, but can’t deliver with its subsequent narrative.
Because stories evolve and can often go in a different direction than originally anticipated, it’s a good idea to revisit the beginning lines once you’ve reached the end. In some cases, I’ve had to rewrite the opening paragraphs because they no longer set the tone I wanted.
Though the first lines cannot salvage a story that lacks in other areas, a riveting opening can help define a piece. This is vital especially if you want to pursue the traditional publishing route. Think of it as an opportunity to make a good first impression on the editor. We all know initial reactions matter because you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression.
So, what are the things you look for when reading the opening lines of a story?