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Writing Tips

from Two Brothers Press
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Here are links to other writing tips:

Dialog: The elements and art in dialog

Fastest Gun in the West: Writers often assume readers will fill in the details

Narrative Voice in Storytelling: A discussion of point of view and verb tense and how these elements affect the story.

Description: The red meat of storytelling.

Flashbacks: Hey, who's in here with me? This is my flashback
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DarkNightIt Was a Dark and Stormy Night:
Creating compelling openings for novels

Perhaps the most important first step in writing a novel is constructing the kind of opening (within the first sentence or paragraph) that will grab a potential reader's attention, giving him or her a reason to continue perusing the novel. I remember when I was in high school, our school library had a small rack of paperbacks for sale. It's where I picked up Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment as well as George Orwell's 1984. I had no idea who George Orwell was. This was 1964 and I was sixteen. But as soon as I read the opening sentence of that book, I snapped it shut and bought it—for an incredible $0.35. Anyway...what grabbed me was this: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

It was just bizarre enough about clocks striking "thirteen" to compel me to want to find out what kind of quirky world had such a different time-keeping system. Right, we do have twenty-four hour clocks, but that never struck me, as I stood in front of the rack of books.

CommonSonsYears later, I would pen my first novel and it struck me that I needed a compelling opening, as well, so I wrote:
Joel woke up disturbed.
Incidentally, the opening was also a flashback. These can be tricky in the openings of novels, but for the moment in which I had Joel awaken, we are in the present of the story, but shortly thereafter we go into the flashback to the night before to show just why he might have been disturbed when he woke up the next morning. At any rate, the opening does compel readers to continue reading to find out what caused Joel to be disturbed, and even though the "answer" is given in the first chapter, other incidents in that first chapter continue to compel the reader forward. In a broad sense, then, the openings can do any of a number of things to entice readers to continue, and one of these is to gain, as quickly as possible, empathy for the main or first character we meet. It could also work in the opposite way, by introducing us to what is obviously the villain or protagonist in the story, and our job as writers is to make the protagonist interesting enough that readers will want to find out what he/she is up to.

UncleSeanIn another novel I began with:
Uncle Sean sure is pretty, but there's something wrong with him, anyway.
And then, there's the famous, "It was a dark and stormy night," penned by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in 1830 in his novel Paul Clifford. The entire opening of this line is:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
Opening lines or paragraphs set a mood right away, or they hint at something out of the ordinary. They don't have to be supernatural. It can be something as simple as an interrupted routine, say, in an old folks home. "The food trays didn't arrive at eleven o'clock. In fact, outside in the hall there was no sound, whatsoever..."

Just to get your creative juices flowing, here are a couple more opening lines that do the right job of gleaning reader interest, hinting at something more to come and causing readers to continue reading...

These lines come from the editors of American Book Review who have selected what they consider the most memorable first lines of novels. The titles on the list span centuries and genres and include classics and contemporary novels that are certain to become classics.

Read more: Best First Lines of Novels
It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.
—(Paul Auster, City of Glass, 1985)

Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.”   
—(Gertrude Stein,  The Making of Americans, 1925)
So, even if you are well on your way to finishing your first novel (or even your sixth or seventh), consider the novel opening. Catchy, simple opening sentences do the most to grab readers; but so do cleverly worded, interesting, and arresting opening paragraphs. Just remember that a flat opening, an indulgence by the writer in beautiful prose, for example, will not necessarily get readers to go beyond the first page.