Friday, April 10, 2009

OPENING YOUR STORY With 'Heat" on the PAGE - THE GRAB & HOOK by Robert W. Walker

You can’t be namby-pamby on page one or in paragraph one, or in sentence one for that matter; you want to begin a dramatic story with a dramatic moment. Now there is a huge chasm there if you go try to define what is dramatic. I don’t mean you have to begin with violence or a car chase or a fireball in the sky, but rather you want to begin in the midst of a life, in the midst of a powerful moment in that life, at some important juncture or step or mistake in a life—the life of one or more of your characters who comes full blown on the stage (your opening curtain scene). You want to open too by drawing on all of the five senses you can—triangulate at least three of the senses and strive for five, and if possible the sixth sense as well.

Below are some openings I have used. In each, you will find what I am talking about, I hope. Some of these books have seen print and some of these opening are works in progress, but all of them have caught the attention of an editor somewhere

From Psi Blue: (unpublished, looking for a home)

FBI Headquarters Secret Psychic Detection Lab modern day…

Special Agent Aurelia Murphy Hiyakawa sat clothed in a virgin white terry robe, in the lotus position, electrodes attached and grounded to the open-air copper pipe pyramid, which she’d designed to enhance her psychic projections and astral journeys. A small sterile white mat lie before her, and on the mat lay six items she’d been asked to “read”. The objects held a strange communion with her. She fingered each item, tossing several out of the pyramid, holding onto other items as she went.

From Flesh War: (published via\shorts as a serialized novel)

In the Bay of Bengal, India modern day…

The side-wheeler Bristol Star of India chugged into thick fog that hinted at rich sea air, with just a suggestion of the stench of the disease in the mist over the bay. The disease island must be near, must be in the vicinity. Small, sad death boats, their bottoms filled with corpses had begun to emerge from the fog to drift by the Star’s bow. Angelica Hunter gasped at the sight and grabbed Eric’s arm for support.

From Cuba Blue: (w/Lyn Pokabla, unpublished, looking for a home)

Off the coast of Havana, Cuba modern day…

The coast of Havana’s clear-blue tropical sea heard the mechanical cry of screeching rust-encrusted gears that suddenly slammed to a standstill. Several nautical miles north of Canal del Entrada, Cuba, the whining pulley ratcheted once, then twice with biting and chomping, then stopped again on the dimly-lit shrimp trawler Sanabella II. The unexpected stillness stopped all activity aboard ship and save for the screeching hungry seagulls, the deafening quiet reigned. Wide-eyed, the men, frozen in position, stared first at the choked-off windlass and then at one another afraid to breathe, afraid to hope. Fishing had been wretchedly poor.

From City for Ransom: (HarperCollins 2006; now a Kindle e-book – but opening changed in rewrite)

Chicago, Illinois, June 1, 1893...3AM

The newly formed and lettered sign tore at its chain moorings where it dangled over the modest brownstone house, the shingle reading Dr. James Phineas Tewes, Phrenological and Magnetic Examiner until a lightning strike hit it, turning it into an unrecognizable charred mess.
Across town to the sound of thunder, lightning, wind, rain, and the clock tolling 5AM, Alastair Ransom climbed from bed, unable to sleep, his skin afire with malarial fever. He dosed himself with a hefty tumbler of quinine and Kentucky whiskey. He imagined strangling Dr. Caine McKinnette for having run out of his supply of quinine and antimony. He breathed in deeply, imagining the pleasure of his hands around the good doctor’s throat. Then once more what really troubled him began invading his night: the awful, bloody murder case that had fallen into his lap the day before.

THESE ARE ALL examples of opening with the verve of strong verbs, the conscious choice of few to no qualifiers, no WASes please! And active voice. Any elementary or high school grammar text is worth revisiting to rekindle these notions into fire in a writer’s gut. It’s the little things that make a female lead compelling. Revisit Passive vs. Active Voice, the handful of pages devoted to Qualifiers vs. Absolutes (voice), and while at it, look up sentence combining for the 4 types of sentences— Simple, Compound, Complex, and Compound Complex. Imagine it, what Shakespeare utilized we all have to work with—shapes already formed, voice choice, to qualify

For another example of a strong opening, check out my upcoming DEAD ON which you can download as a e-book before publication at
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Ta-ta for now! -- Rob --


Morgan Mandel said...

Grab the reader and don't let go! Great idea. Some books take a while to get into and some readers are patient, but many are not.

Morgan Mandel

Deborah Talmadge said...

So easy to say. So hard to do. Dean Koontz writes his over and over dozens of times until he gets it right. Would that I could as well as he.

Rob Wallker said...

An old term helps media res or in the middle of things. Open your story in the middle of things. If you open not at the bottom of the cliff with character thinking of climbing up, no good; he should be half way up with the rope snapping in sentence one. Take the climbing metaphor to any situation or circumstance, in the middle of a car wreck, in the middle of a thing gone south or bad or sour, It's how every clint Eastwood film opens--his action ones at least.


Anonymous said...

I'm sort of embarrassed to say that I just discovered your Chicago "White City" novels. Usually a nonfiction girl myself, but I'm looking forward to reading them. And, I'll bet my readers would too. Best wishes.