I wrote a killer opening for my novel. It killed any desire to read further. Or so my friends said when I shared my work. Each gave a different remedy. Some said to open with dialog; others said to describe the setting (coastal South Carolina). Still others said to open with the murder itself. None of these seemed right in a first-person point-of-view murder mystery.
Frustrated and confused, I turned to the writer I consider the master of first-person POV mysteries: Sue Grafton. I’ve read each of her twenty-one books at least three times. From 1982 through 2009, Grafton wrote her way through the alphabet from A is for Alibi to U is for Undertow. Her fans, including me, await V is for . . . .
After reviewing all twenty-one books (twenty are in first-person POV; U is for Undertow, a thriller, blends first- and third-person POV), I found a common thread: a foreshadowing of what is to come. The had-I-but-known school of thought; the looking-back-in-hindsight thoughts. My favorite is C is for Corpse. Fortunately, I own the audio-book, so I sat at my computer and typed as I listened.
When I finished, I had a new opening for my novel. Of course, this may change; it’s a work in progress. For now, it’s a beginning that lets readers know who’s marked for death. Yet it leaves them wondering who will kill him and when, why, and how. Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick at midnight?
An opening grabs readers’ attention and keeps them reading. The best opening I’ve read in a contemporary book is from The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls: I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I was overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. That one sentence hooked me. I had to read the book, which is every bit as interesting as the first line.
This week, I challenge you to read the opening (just a sentence or two) of twenty books. Go to your public library, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Borders—can’t leave anyone out. Choose books on your own bookshelf, or use Amazon.com (Look Inside feature). Select books at random. Or look at all the books in a series, or all the books by your favorite author. When you find an opening you like, write it in a journal. No, don’t photocopy the page and add it to a three-ring binder; you’re a writer, so write. Note the book and the author for future reference. I open my journal often and read random entries. They inspire me to write and/or rewrite to improve my writing skills and my story.
No matter where you are in your story development, write or rewrite the opening until it’s the best you can write. Don’t let your opening murder the story. Take the challenge—Write Now!