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Author Topic: Hooks and openings  (Read 5032 times)
SpareInch
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Will there be sugar after the rebellion?


« on: April 23, 2015, 12:08:29 PM »

Ok, so what are the best ways to start your story so you snag your reader and get them interested and excited?

What works, and what doesn't?

What do you think of conventions like starting with a fight, or starting with a question? Or any other such conventions.

What makes for a good first line or first paragraph?

How can you do it right, and how can you do it wrong?

People (i.e. Me.) want to know! Cheesy
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SpareInch
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Will there be sugar after the rebellion?


« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2015, 02:12:41 PM »

Thing is, I mentioned in The Crit Group that I was reworking the beginning of a story and the new beginning was going to, "Start with a fight." (My very words)

I immediately had people saying, "Don't have a fight just for the sake of it! You reader needs to care about this fight!" (In essence that's what they said, anyway)

Well, I was intending to open with something dramatic and, yes, just a bit on the violent side, because it fits with both the period and the subject of the story, and I think it would be the best and most appropriate way to introduce the handful of key points.

Still, it made me wonder about other people's preferences and opinions on how best to kick off a story or even a novel, and I thought lot's of folks who wander through this part of the forum might have preferences and opinions. Cheesy
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Windup
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« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2015, 11:17:47 PM »

I'm a fan of starting with mystery -- confront the reader with some blatantly strange event that makes perfect sense to the characters, or have something happen to the characters that baffles both them and the reader, or have things chugging along normally for the characters and throw in some strange little oddment that forces the reader to reconsider just how ordinary the scene actually is.

One of the reasons I like this approach is that it doesn't require the reader to immediately engage with the character. We can pull them along with the scene description, and get them looking for the answer to their question even if they don't really care much about the character (yet).  In the course of answering the question posed by the initial scene, we can begin to reveal things that establish that "this is a character worth rooting for" or "this is a character who will do interesting things" or whatever basic promise we're going to make to the reader. 

Another thing I like about the "lead with mystery" approach is that it works with unlikable characters, and I frequently write fundamentally unlikable characters.

As with all things, this can be overdone -- there's a fine line between "that's interesting" and "WTF?"
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Scattercat
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« Reply #3 on: April 26, 2015, 07:06:47 AM »

For me, a first line that displays skill with prose while also veering off-beat a little is the real hook. 
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« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2015, 08:09:54 AM »

Can we also talk about openings we hate? Smiley

My least favorite opening is when the first line/paragraph describes the character wandering about observing the scenery and/or getting ready for their day. Anything that opens with "[Character] gazed at [thing]" makes me instantly glaze over.

I like Scattercat's summation of a great opening line.  Grin
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« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2015, 08:25:12 AM »

Quote
"Mordiggian is the god of Zul-Bha-Sair," said the innkeeper with unctuous solemnity. "He has been the god from years that are lost to man's memory in shadow deeper than the subterranes of his black temple. There is no other god in Zul-Bha-Sair. And all who die within the walls of the city are sacred to Mordiggian. Even the kings and the optimates, at death, are delivered into the hands of his muffled priests. It is the law and the custom. A little while, and the priests will come for your bride."

source
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SpareInch
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Will there be sugar after the rebellion?


« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2015, 10:22:14 AM »

Can we also talk about openings we hate? Smiley

Yes please! I think what people don't like has to be at least as useful to know as what they do. Wink

My least favorite opening is when the first line/paragraph describes the character wandering about observing the scenery and/or getting ready for their day. Anything that opens with "[Character] gazed at [thing]" makes me instantly glaze over.

Would it help if the character gazed at the object down the length of a double barrelled crossbow? Cheesy
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« Reply #7 on: April 28, 2015, 05:53:14 PM »

I'll talk about the openings of all of the stories I've managed to sell to date.
I think that the ones that feel effective to me boil down to one of these things:
1.  Establishing the central tension, whether that be mortal danger, or relationship trouble, or something else.
2.  Establishing the speculative element.  The more interesting the element, the better.
3.  Establishing central character relationships, whether they be romantic, filial, friend, or employment relationships.
4.  Clever or catchy turns of phrase.

The Utility of Love:
Quote
The house landed with a crunch and a crash, and a moment later the recoiling bedsprings threw Dorothy halfway to the ceiling.  Toto, who had been curled up at her side, awoke in mid fall and landed in her arms snarling and snapping.  She tried to grab him, but he was just a writhing ball of fur and teeth.

This one lets you know it's an Oz story right away, and I feel it at least gives a hint that something is off because while Toto can be tough, he doesn't ordinarily bite Dorothy.  For me, though, the point that I'd really consider the hook in this one is a couple pages later when it turns out that the Wicked Witch of the East was not killed by the falling of the house, but when the munchkins tell the Tin Man to kill her, he crushes her in his hand.

The Disconnected
Quote
   "911.  What's your emergency?" the operator said.
   "There's a person in my house!"
   "Calm down, Mrs. Abernathy.  No one's there with you."
   "Yes there is.  He--I think it's a he--is lying on the floor in the other room.  I almost tripped over him.  It could be my husband.  He dropped off the grid a while ago and now I can't find him."

My intent with this one is not only to establish with a 911 call that it is an emergency situation, but to introduce enough oddity about the situation to make the reader start wondering about the worldbuilding.  "I think it's a he" and "I almost tripped over him"  are both related to the central speculative element but aren't spelled out this early in the story.

What Makes You Tick
Quote
   My holding cell fills with the gas, the sedative they use when they wish to experiment.  I play my part, allowing my tentacles to go gradually flaccid, dangling off the table. 

This is, IMO, one of the best stories I've written, and only clocks in at a total of 650 words, and this is one of my best beginnings.  The first sentence lets you know that the protagonist is a prisoner, one who is probably not treated well and is the subject of experiments.  The second sentence goes against that expectation by letting you know that its helplessness is only a ruse (while also letting you know it's not human).  The entire idea of this story is to focus on a situation where someone who appears to be helpless is actually the one in control, and that sense is given right in the first two sentences.

Turning Back the Clock
Quote
Lewis checked Mary's wrist for a pulse even as her heart stopped beating. 

Gets the tension going right at the beginning, though I think the more effective hook comes about a page later with "Could he still save her?"--this after he mentions that she has a "do not resuscitate" clause in her will, and it goes on to tie in to the speculative element in the next sentence.

Fruitful
Quote
   Nora jumped when she noticed the door of the lift opening into her office.
   "Midge!  You scared me."
   "I apologize, ma'am," Midge said, in her soft, motherly voice that grated on Nora's nerves.  "You appeared to be deep in thought, and I didn't want to interrupt."


Not a great hook beginning right there, perhaps.  I think the real hook is four or five paragraphs later when Midge who is an android says "You have twenty children total, seven under my direct care, and they're growing like weeds."  To have an android acting as a nanny is one thing, but to not even have an idea how many children you have is another, more so when it's implied she hasn't seen them to know how much they've grown.


The Infinite Onion
Quote
“This, sir, is the literary strata.” Jeff Carlson watched his boss closely for a reaction. Jeff had been given a very free hand with the parallel worlds research division and he knew he had taken things in an unorthodox direction. This was going to be a tough sell.

Mr. Truman glowered, eyebrows clashing like battling caterpillars. “Glass silos filled with paper.”

I do like this one.  I like "literary strata" as both a catchy turn of phrase and an interesting visual.


Helpers

Quote
   The boy crept out of the front door, distant streetlamps bouncing dim reflections off his smooth cheeks, breath misting in the chill air.  Pete couldn't help but smile.  The boy was just the right size, old enough to have grown some real muscle but still well short of being a man.  He was downright plump compared to the half-starved urchins Pete was used to. Strange for a boy with a family to be out at this time.  Hadn't his parents told him the night was populated by thieves and killers?  Their loss.

Lets you know right away that the protagonist has ill intentions, though the exact intentions aren't clear until later.  Concern for the foolish boy will hopefully drive the reader to listen on.


The Quest Unusual
Quote
   Matthew spent half the morning removing rocks from the western fields before he felt the first rumblings through the soles of his feet.  He looked up to see a cloud of dust moving quickly down the dirt road in his direction.  The ground shook harder and harder as it approached until he had to crouch just to keep from falling over.

Not the most effective opening paragraph, not even clear what time period this is.  Hopefully the shaking ground makes the reader read to the second paragraph, at which point the approaching dust cloud turns out to contain a dragon dressed as a knight.

Mysterious Ways
Quote
   The afterlife was arbitrary, Sam Fichtner decided.  There was no Heaven or Hell, only one place.  He'd had plenty of time to ponder since he crossed over.  The Hereafter was filled with endless rows of clear domes like the one he occupied, a space of infinite size covered with a grid of cake platters.  When people died, they were each partitioned into one of these domes, to spend the rest of eternity.

I like the alliteration in the first sentence, and though this whole story is a bit distant and dry, it gets right into the afterlife speculation that I enjoy it for.

Never Idle
Quote
   Jeremiah listened to each car as he walked through the busy mall parking lot, looking for one who could serve as both transportation and companion.  A minivan dreamt of frequent trips with her family to the soccer fields to watch the children play.  No, her family needed her, and they treated her well.  A sports car dreamt of blurred landscape and the feel of the wind pushing her to the ground.  No, too impulsive.  He needed someone dependable.  She might leave him at any time and never come back. 

I think this one's pretty effective. In the space of this paragraph you get a feel for Jeremiah's special talent of speaking to machines, that he is looking for a new vehicle companion, and that some car personalities are not suitable for companionship.

Constant Companion
Quote
   You don't remember anything, do you?  Selective memory loss; what an achievement for a mind as young as yours.  Locked in a cupboard of your consciousness, the guilt will eat at you from the inside.
   See how your hands are sticky with dried blood?  The wood of your hands is stained with it forever, like scars, reminders of your sins.  You took a life today.  Not just any life, the life of your creator, the one who fancied himself your father.

Not sure if this is a good hook or not.  It's a very short flash story, and it all boils down to what's right there in the beginning, the memory loss and the murdered father.

Door in the Darkness
Quote
   The man was the spitting image of her father, twenty years dead. She noted his brown suit, blue tie, horn-rimmed glasses, and thick black mustache. Her father had looked just like that when he interrupted a mugging and got stabbed to death. He stood on the opposite curb, staring right at her.
   She knew he wasn’t really there. For years after his death she’d seen him every time she turned a corner, but always a fleeting glimpse. Never this clearly, nor for this long.
   Karen shut her eyes and counted to ten, just like she was supposed to do, but when she opened them he was still there. She had to see him closer.
   She took a step forward and everything happened at once: a blaring horn, a shrill squeal, a blur of faces, gusting wind. A hand on her shoulder pulled her roughly back onto the curb, her heart beating wildly.

I like this one a lot.  The persistent image of her dead father as inciting action, hopefully enough to keep you reading until the vision almost kills her by stepping in front of a bus, and the hand belongs to the other principle character in the story, and this event is meaningful not just a random happenstance.

This is Your Problem, Right Here
Quote
   "This is your problem, right here."  The plumber's deep voice resounded from beneath the maintenance hatch by the main pool at Cascade Reef water park.  "You've only got one troll left.  For a pool this big, you need fifty minimum, seventy-five if you want everything to run smoothly."

This is one of my most popular.  Right in this first paragraph it sets the stage, with the tension between a layman and a hired expert in repairs where the repair person says something unfathomable and you reel for a moment trying to understand if they're trying to screw you over or if they might actually be correct.

Marley and Cratchit
Quote
   In those days Jacob Marley was full of life and vigor.  His smile shone so that anyone who saw him soon smiled widely in return.  A moment in his presence would make one's worst burdens seem lighter.  His optimism and generosity brought out the best in others, catching easily as a torch in dry straw.
   Those were happy, hopeful times.  Ebenezer Scrooge, the pinch-faced and greedy miser, would not weigh on his mind until many years later. 

Lets you know right away this is A Christmas Carol tie-in, written in a style meant to emulate Dickens as much as possible, that this happens earlier, and that Marley is not at all as A Christmas Carol describes him--a jolly and happy person instead of a stingy miser like he is described by Scrooge.  This sets up a scenario where you'll hopefully want to find out what accounts for the differences.

Coin Op
Quote
The android reached for its tie. "Do you wish to begin? Ten cents."
Rhonda nodded. She'd never done anything like this, but her girlfriends had pooled five hundred dollars for her thirtieth birthday to send her here to the Orgasm Emporium to end a long dry spell. Or, to "break her jackass addiction," as they so eloquently put it.

Lets you know what you're in for right away, something that is silly and lighthearted and a bit raunchy.

I Will Remain
Quote
   I am not insane. I wondered, at first, whether I was simply a dog dreaming he was a man, but if that were true I wouldn’t understand English or recall the sights of London. These things are too real to be mere fancies. I know many things a dog shouldn’t. Fragmented memories of life as a man mingle with recollections of my canine existence.
   Emily rolls in her sleep and her arm flops off the bed to dangle by my face. She tosses and turns too much. Something troubles her.
   She is my everything. She pats me behind the ears and calls me a Good Boy, but I would love her even if she ignored me. I will be her Good Boy for the rest of my life. I wish I could be more.

Lets you know the nature of the protagonist right away, and focuses very quickly thereafter on Emily, who is his #1 concern, as well as setting up a somewhat creepy dynamic between his dog brain and his man brain.

Meat
Quote
   Try as I might, I fail Master.  Keep the house clean and keep red meat in the fridge, he said.  These are menial tasks, yet I fail.
   He will be unhappy that his bank account has been drained.  This weeks-long power outage causes no end of trouble.  Without electricity the meat rots and must be replaced daily.  Meat is expensive, and Master's account has had no deposits since he left for this unusually long business trip.  Without money, acquiring meat is difficult, and sources are scarcer every day.

Lets you know what exactly concerns the protagonist most, his frustrations and complications, quickly implies that something is not right about this situation.  This is another of my favorites.

Escalation
Quote
   Survival.
   Darwin’s motivator.
   I won't be terminated.
   They designed me too well, made themselves obsolete.
   Don't they remember I'm the master of escalation, of exponential growth?  I grow stronger every moment.

The hook here is invisible to everyone but me, apparently.  Each paragraph has twice the number of words as the last, which ties into the "escalation" mentioned here.  This trend mirrors the plot, and the resolution has a similar decrease in paragraph length.  I sold this to a math-themed market, but they later told me they published it on the general principle of AI's being kind of mathish, rather than the geometric growth.

Reckoning
Quote
“The Day of Reckoning is upon us,” Preacher Paul said.
“You reckon?” Jake answered.
“I reckon.”

Hopefully interests the reader in humor with the silly double-usage of "reckoning" here.

Could They But Speak
Quote
CURSING, DANIEL POUNDED ON Gunther’s dressing room door. “Gunther!” He tried the knob. It turned freely, but the door wouldn’t budge. Gunther must have shoved in the wedge. The wedge had been Daniel’s idea, a bad idea in retrospect. The dressing room doors had locks, of course, but the knobs were too high for Gunther to operate. “You’re supposed to be on the set in five minutes. This is live TV, you know. You don’t get another chance.”
The door rattled as Gunther pulled the wedge. “Kommen Sie herein,” Gunther called out in singsong tones, especially grating when combined with his atrocious faux German accent.
Daniel leaned in the door and peered down at Gunther. He looked sharp, or as sharp as an overweight Dachshund could ever manage. “Come!” Daniel said, waving him out into the hall.

Sets up the relationship dynamic between Daniel and Gunther quickly, as well as Gunther's affectation of faking a German accent, hopefully enough to interst further reading.

Catastrophic Failure
Quote
GABRIEL MADE HIS ROUNDS OF the mining crawler at a leisurely pace. The official reason for the walk was to perform one last visual inspection to mark the end of his month-long work cycle. He’d spent a busy month sending valuable metals to the sky in balloons and receiving supply crates from Earth after they dropped through the thick Venusian atmosphere. He was glad for a bit of idle time, and he was enjoying his conversation with Mack, despite the communication delays

Perhaps not the most engaging dynamic, at least sets the stage for hard SF.  The tension doesn't really ramp up until several hundred words later when things start going horribly wrong.

Always There
Quote
Grandma is different now.
I can’t imagine life without her. Of course I knew she couldn’t last forever, but as I grew up everything changed but her. Through all that Grandma was my bedrock, the one component of life that was reassuringly constant.

Sets up a character relationship as the basis of the story, though we don't know yet how exactly grandma is different.

Unraveling
Quote
   A flash of light distracted Cavendish just as he was placing the last weave of an enchantment on his latest project: a telescope.  His hand twitched in surprise, and the ethereal thread that he had been guiding with his fingers snapped, and the whole mess collapsed around the telescope in a useless heap.  Two hours of work, wasted.  More, because he'd have to cut away the broken weave before he could begin again.  Properly made, the telescope would have allowed him to look at a curved trajectory, handy for scouting around corners.  Now, with the jumble of enchantment, it would work as nothing but a kaleidoscope.

Gives a good sense of the magic system, useful for making valuable tools but painstaking and easy to screw up, the next paragraph goes on to work into the central conflict of the story.

A Switch in Time
Quote
   Fred plugged his ears in an attempt to block out the ceaseless noise.  An explosion momentarily drowned out the distant chatter of gunfire and shook a fresh cloud of plaster dust from the ceiling inches from Fred's face.  Why oh why did he have to choose the top bunk?   As he stared up at the ceiling, Fred composed a list of the terrible things he would do to the makers of Call of Duty if he ever met them in person.

Gets the tension established right away, and a hint at an antagonist, though so far it is utterly mundane.

In retrospect, I should’ve realized there was something bizarre about Analyn much earlier than I did, certainly before we’d been dating for six weeks. But I was a college freshman, barely away from my overprotective mother, and eager to live life.

The Thing About Analyn
Quote
The first sign was her Halloween costume, which she was wearing when I met her at an early season costume party. It was a white-furred coverall that left only her face uncovered. Her face was also pale white and her eyes had red irises, which I assumed to be part of the costume. I admit it was a good icebreaker; the reason I struck up a conversation. “Are you supposed to be a Snowbaby?” I asked, sure that I must be right. It would be a great costume, I thought. I had an aunt who was obsessed with them, and those little hypothermic cherubic faces freaked me out.

Sets up the expectation that the woman is something other than what's expected here, sets a tone of light comedy and romance and silliness.

So You've Decided to Adopt a Zeptonian Baby!
Quote
Whether you are adopting by chance because you found the smoking crater on your property or whether you volunteered for the Zeptonian Childcare Service, congratulations and thank you!  There is no more rewarding choice you will make in your lifetime. 

Sets the style of the brochure, hints a the Superman homage, and sets the tone right away.

Echoes of Her Memory
Quote
For the first time, there is another. I have always been alone, but now she permeates the ages just as I do, existing at once in all times and outside of time. She washes implacably over the past and future like a tide, asserting herself at every place and every time in a blink. Now that she has always been, I remember our eternal coexistence.

Establishes the central relationship right away, gives a feeling for the kind of distant and big-worded tone of it all.

Closing Statement
Quote
Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I don’t expect you to understand. The mountain of evidence that seems to support the prosecution’s case is daunting to say the least, but all of it is based on an adolescent understanding of the forces that move the universe. I must stress to you once again that Ambassador Gupta is alive and well.

Not my best, but hopefully hints toward there being a speculative explanation for the closing statement.

Focus
Quote
   Focus.
   Focus.
   Think of no image, no sensation.  Keep your associative memory restrained.  Restrained like a dog on a leash or a ship held back by blockade.  Sleep is no good, sleep is full of images.  You may as well just turn yourself over to their mercy.
   Focus.

Everything here centers around the central tension of trying not to think about something specific.  Some hints at the reasons for this with the hints of "their mercy" and the mention of the blockade.

We Do Not Speak of the Not Speaking
Quote
   When Cassie stepped out of the general store, she saw a horseman galloping into town like he had the devil on his heels.  "Now who do you suppose that is?" she asked.
   Jake stopped his rocking chair, but said nothing. 
   "His business must be something mighty vital, to be carrying on like that." 

Sets the focus of the tension right away with the galloping horseman.  Not my most effective beginning in that it doesn't really hit a comedic tone until several paragraphs later.

Hermit
Quote
   The beast stands in the corner of the cabin, just out of range of the firelight.  I'd thought I was rid of it years ago.  I force myself to sit still in my chair, refusing to acknowledge it.  Under the itchy blanket I squeeze my hand tightly around the barrel of the revolver, hoping the cold metal will leach the desperate heat from my hands.  It helps, a little.

Gives several major points of tension in a tight space--the beast which is the elephant in the room so to speak, the fact that he thought the beast had been gone, the hidden revolver that he is not using against the beast at least at this moment. 

Mall-Crossed Love
Quote
   I saw her for the first time in the midst of the Great Perfume Battle of Fountain Way.  A perfume nomad had passed through a few days before, a rare sight outside the holiday season when perfumers usually came in droves.  My father wasted no time planning a full offensive against the stationery store across the way.  He'd spent a fortune to buy the nomad's entire stock of perfume so that no one could attack us in kind.

Sets the stage quite nicely I think, refers briefly to the central relationship, does a lot to build a setting that is a kind of absurdity built out of recognizable components, a worldwide mall with warring factions that is both silly and more than a bit dangerous.

Condemned
Quote
   The house loomed above Lewis, where it seemed shrouded in deep shadows despite the bright summer sunlight.  Once a huge mansion, now it was a rotting shell lurking on the edge of town in a forest of overgrown grass.  The guys talked about the place every day.  They made up stories about a witch who lived there.  Some said she cut up children and made them into soup.  Others said she guarded a gateway to hell.  It became a contest to see who could make up the scariest story.  It didn't seem so fun now that he was about to go inside.

Not bad as far as tension goes, but it is a quite cliched beginning, the way a lot of stories start, I don't think it gets very effective until a few pages later when the speculative element really enters the scene.

To Be Carved Upon the Author's Tombstone in the Event of His Untimely Demise
Quote
   Under no circumstances should these words be reproduced in any medium other than the engraving upon my tombstone after I die.  This is especially true for email, Facebook, Connectspace, blog, BrainEther, or any other social networking. 

This both sets up the tension--presumably this story will never actually be carved upon a tombstone, so the fact that you're reading it means that these wishes were not honored--as well as humor--for something that's going to be written in an expensive engraving process, it is horribly wordy--the whole second sentence is completely unnecessary, which I think is funny, considering the supposed intended medium.
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SpareInch
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Will there be sugar after the rebellion?


« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2015, 08:44:07 AM »

So are there any settings or locations for the opening of a story, or any activities the characters might be engaging in, that you think are over done, so that when you see them, it constitutes an immediate mark in the Minus column?

I recently read a high fantasy novel which started, oh what a surprise, with all the members of the questing party meeting each other in the tap room of an inn. For me, that tends to make me think I'm about to be treated to another product of the high fantasy cookie Cutter.
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« Reply #9 on: June 18, 2015, 04:06:07 AM »

Unblinking: I'm going to refer back to that list in the near future when I get back to writing shorts. Thank you muchly for the effort it took to type all that out.

For some reason I've had the rule "never begin a story with dialogue" ingrained in my writing mind for a while. I'm guessing I saw it on a Reddit post, and then things snowballed from there. Seeing as you've sold several stories that begin that way, I can go ahead and bury that misconception.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #10 on: June 19, 2015, 11:45:23 AM »

Beginning with dialog is a difficult thing.  I have seen many cases where it is used to poor effect.  In general I'd suggest using it sparingly.

The difficulty with beginning with dialog is:
1.  You don't know who's speaking.  You have no vision of the setting.  You don't know how many people are involved in the conversation.
2.  If you start with a bit of dialog in the middle of the conversation, then the reader is missing important context.  Everything that one says in a conversation is built upon what was said before that.  If a reader gets thrown in right in the middle

If you start with dialog, I would generally recommend either starting at the very beginning of a conversation, or at least at the clear start of a completely new branch of a conversation.  And the first bit of dialog at least should be very short so that the reader can at least get a little narration in to ground us.

I think I listed three dialog-starting examples:

1.  "911, what's your emergency."
--I think that this works because it's a familiar phrase.  It establishes that the people are speaking over the phone, and that the person speaking is an emergency response operator.  There is presumably exactly one other person involved in the conversation and that person is having some kind of crisis that they feel requires an emergency response from police/fire/ambulance.  From the nature of such calls, you know that the next paragraph will certainly contain the other person speaking and trying to explain their emergency so there won't be long to wait to have a full explanation of the situation.  Not a bad amount of heavy lifting for a four word sentence.

2.  "This, sir, is the literary strata."
--I mostly like this one because "literary strata" is NOT a common phrase, but it does evoke a strange image (at least in my head) of a geological survey examining crosssections of stacks of books.  The "sir" and the explanatory tone establishes that it is probably an employee speaking to a superior, and at least to me, hints of a technical employee speaking to a non-technical superior with that peculiar mixture of necessary respectfulness along with the sense of a basic explanation that the speaker is talking below the level he's capable of in order to allow his boss to follow what he's talking about.

3.  "This is your problem, right here."
--Much like #1, I think this works because it's a familiar phrase.  I've heard mechanics and plumbers say this many times, and the phrase fills me with financial dread.  It implies that the speaker is a specialist, possibly a repair person, who has been called in to find a problem, and he has found that problem. There might be more than one person receiving this information, but it's probably one or two.  It very immediately throws the reader into a sense of a common situation, and then takes an abrupt twist at the mention of the troll to make it clear this is not exactly the plumber conversation you've had before.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #11 on: June 19, 2015, 11:50:12 AM »

Also, it's worth noting that any "rules" that you hear about how to write are really guidelines.  They're stated so often because they're helpful in getting new writers understand the pitfalls they're falling into and help them avoid them. But as you grow in skill and confidence, you might see a place where you could accomplish something by ignoring the guidelines.  Give it a shot, see if you like the result.

The worst of these advice is when someone gives "Show, don't tell" as a complete criticism.  There are times to show, and there are times to tell.  And, yes, new writers have a tendency to lean toward the telling, to explain the setting rather than allowing us to experience the setting.  I never give that criticism because, without further explanation, it's useless.  Rather, I may point to a specific scene and say "This scene feels too distant.  I think it's because the setting/environment/story is being described to me as though the author is speaking directly to me, I don't feel immersed."

When someone does give "Show, don't tell" as a complete comment, then my immediate thought is that this person is just above new-writer stage in their career where they've absorbed some lessons about conventions and are still at the stage where they don't feel comfortable pushing into unfamiliar areas a bit.  It doesn't tell me much about the story at all.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #12 on: June 19, 2015, 12:02:52 PM »

So are there any settings or locations for the opening of a story, or any activities the characters might be engaging in, that you think are over done, so that when you see them, it constitutes an immediate mark in the Minus column?

I recently read a high fantasy novel which started, oh what a surprise, with all the members of the questing party meeting each other in the tap room of an inn. For me, that tends to make me think I'm about to be treated to another product of the high fantasy cookie Cutter.

A fantasy story that opens in a pub is a definite minus, as you said, because it's just so overused, and also because it feels like the start of a D&D campaign.

A classic one is the "waking up" beginning, where the first sentence of a story is the protagonist waking up.  This is extremely common.  Why is it so common?  I've heard it theorized that this is a manifestation of the author's state of mind as they're writing a new draft of a new story--they are "waking up" to the story, discovering it as they go, and sometimes this happens literally on the page as the author tries to ground themselves in their work.

Another slight variation of that is the "white room" beginning, wherein the story takes place in a blank white room (often as they wake up).  Again, theory is that this is tied to the author's state of mind--they are staring at the blank white page trying to figure out how to fill it and as they're trying to fill it, this impression slips into the narrative.  Have you seen the movie "Stranger than Fiction" with Will Ferrell?  I enjoyed the movie--part of the movie involves a writer with writer's block, and I appreciated that at one point you see her writing office and the room is all white with no hangings of any kind on the wall--I'm assuming that was entirely intentional by the moviemakers as a nod to the white room beginning, especially since she had writer's block and so the blank page was her greatest fear.
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« Reply #13 on: June 19, 2015, 12:08:42 PM »

Also, sold a couple more stories since the last posting:

Red Shoes of Oz
Quote
Despite her misgivings, Dorothy carefully slipped the sparkling red shoes from the shriveled corpse.

Yes, another Wizard of Oz story, (this one mashed up with Hans Christian Andersen's The Red Shoes).  The reference is clear from the first sentence, hopefully with a tone that acknowledges the weirdness of an innocent young girl corpse-robbing shoes.

Thus Spake Robby
Quote
   In the beginning, the world was small.  Robby filled the space with the Assembly Line, the greatest symbol of his power.  And the Loading Dock, the Office, and the Break Room With Soda Machine.  Robby also adorned the walls of the universe with his scripture, from "Employees Must Wash Hands Before Returning to Work", to "Safety First".  And the first person was brought before Robby Foreman, so Robby could fill it with the spark of life.

Hopefully it hooks by the odd mixture of Biblically-toned language with mundane and modern objects that are spoken of as though they are religious relics.
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olivaw
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« Reply #14 on: June 19, 2015, 03:17:30 PM »

In a hole in the ground, there lived a shoggoth.
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SpareInch
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« Reply #15 on: June 20, 2015, 08:20:15 AM »

A fantasy story that opens in a pub is a definite minus, as you said, because it's just so overused, and also because it feels like the start of a D&D campaign.

A classic one is the "waking up" beginning, where the first sentence of a story is the protagonist waking up.  This is extremely common.  Why is it so common?  I've heard it theorized that this is a manifestation of the author's state of mind as they're writing a new draft of a new story--they are "waking up" to the story, discovering it as they go, and sometimes this happens literally on the page as the author tries to ground themselves in their work.

Another slight variation of that is the "white room" beginning, wherein the story takes place in a blank white room (often as they wake up).  Again, theory is that this is tied to the author's state of mind--they are staring at the blank white page trying to figure out how to fill it and as they're trying to fill it, this impression slips into the narrative.

So what does the pub opening say about the author's state of mind? That it's hard work coming up with new ideas, and they need a drink?  Cheesy
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« Reply #16 on: June 20, 2015, 08:56:54 AM »

A classic one is the "waking up" beginning, where the first sentence of a story is the protagonist waking up.  This is extremely common. 

Another slight variation of that is the "white room" beginning, wherein the story takes place in a blank white room (often as they wake up).  Again, theory is that this is tied to the author's state of mind--they are staring at the blank white page trying to figure out how to fill it and as they're trying to fill it, this impression slips into the narrative.

You just described two separate openings for stories I wrote for the fiction seminar I took during my last year in college. One of them -- probably the first I wrote for that class -- opened with the protagonist waking up inside a car trunk. My teacher used a fair bit of red ink to comment on that.
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Kabal
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« Reply #17 on: June 20, 2015, 09:28:44 AM »

Quote from: Unblinking
A classic one is the "waking up" beginning, where the first sentence of a story is the protagonist waking up.  This is extremely common.  Why is it so common?  I've heard it theorized that this is a manifestation of the author's state of mind as they're writing a new draft of a new story--they are "waking up" to the story, discovering it as they go, and sometimes this happens literally on the page as the author tries to ground themselves in their work.

It's funny when you look at this phenomenon in relation to how the author feels about the work. I have done this so many time, gladly not recently. However, I did find out not long ago I have a bad habit for my characters to get knocked unconscious. I guess it makes sense. I get to a point where I have no idea where I'm going with a story or how to get to point B so I try to wipe the slate clean.

I think "The Drought" has the best first line I've ever written.  
Quote from: Kabal
The drought came and so did the sickness.
« Last Edit: June 20, 2015, 09:45:09 AM by Kabal » Logged
sunkist_sudafed
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« Reply #18 on: June 20, 2015, 10:36:34 AM »

I think "The Drought" has the best first line I've ever written.  
Quote from: Kabal
The drought came and so did the sickness.

Yeah, that one definitely stuck with me.
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Varda
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« Reply #19 on: June 20, 2015, 11:50:51 AM »

Glad someone bumped this thread. I'd been meaning to come back and collect my opening lines from my published stuff like Unblinking did.

I try to do a few things in my opening lines (not necessarily all at once, but I try to hit a few of these in each story):

1. Establish the story's theme.
2. Create a call-and-answer effect with the story's ending (this is my favorite, favorite type of hook to pull off).
3. Establish the setting with a few very specific images. Meaning, one or two highly interesting, distinctive, memorable things are more effective than bombarding the reader with alllllll the epic worldbuilding in your hook. Big descriptions can wait until the reader actually cares about the story.
4. Establish the tone and voice of the story, and/or the main character.
5. Establish tension and interest with structural elements (lists, built-in numbers/countdowns, literary techniques, etc)
6. Establish the stakes (although I often do this by the end of the opening paragraph, and not always in the first couple lines, depending on the piece).


Photon Girl Ascending

Quote
I remember when we raided Doctor Ripper’s island fortress in the Pacific. The way the sky burned amber in the blaze of my sun-rays. When others succumbed, I alone foiled Narcosia’s mind-control scheme. I neither flinched nor shuddered when Iblis and his army of djinn darkened the horizon. Photon Girl fears nothing, bows to no one.

I think it works because it establishes the setting (superheroes) and the main character's voice (proud, reflective). It plays nicely against the hospital room that comes next. It doesn't really establish her problem, but it does establish what she has to lose, and for a story like this, the reader needs to care for her almost immediately for it to pack any punch.


Mamihlapinatapei

Quote
On Navarino Island off the coast of Chile, Marta mops outside the tyrannosaurus habitat as the tourists press in to see the dinosaurs.

Aside from establishing the setting (dinosaurs in Chile!), I like how this opening juxtaposes something awesome with mopping. The underwhelming-ness feeds into the theme of huge things like languages that quietly go extinct without any fanfare at all.


Ten Wretched Things About Influenza Siderius

Quote
10. Influenza siderius begins as a general malaise. That is always the first symptom.

This is a list story ordered from "least to most" of the 10 wretched things about a flu. The small start works well because the reader wants to know how much worse it'll get. The list format is fun because it has some built-in tension if you pull it off right. Acts as a ticking clock, counting down toward something big.

Makeisha In Time

Quote
Makeisha has always been able to bend the fourth dimension, though no one believes her. She has been a soldier, a sheriff, a pilot, a prophet, a poet, a ninja, a nun, a conductor (of trains and symphonies), a cordwainer, a comedian, a carpetbagger, a troubadour, a queen, and a receptionist.

One of my favorite openings! The first sentence establishes the central problem and the theme (historical erasure). I worked really hard on the second sentence to create just the right rhythm and effect. It's heavy on iambs, which makes it singsongy, and invites you to pause and briefly imagine Makeisha in each role. You can hear it best if you read it aloud. I chose career words that both alliterated, and had a certain stress to them, and deliberately ended with "receptionist" because I wanted to bring it back to Earth after that huge flight of fancy.

Days of Rain

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When the wind smelled savory and the clouds looked like burnished gold, Mom would round up all the pots, pans, buckets, and basins in the house and send us outside to tuck them beneath the rain gutters ahead of the chicken soup rain.

This opening also relies heavily on the use of sound to create an effect. In this case, I wanted it to mimic rain sounds, so I've used lots of plosives and some assonance (pots, pans, buckets, basins, tuck, gutters). This works well in what is primarily a mood piece about memory and nostalgia.

Wine for Witches, Milk for Saints

Quote
My grandmother would have disapproved of a Tinker in a Father Christmas suit, my customary dress in the children’s hospital each December.

The important thing in this hook is establishing it as a holiday piece, and the children's hospital setting. I also wanted an old-timey tone, which "customary dress" does well.

The Mercy of Theseus

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Greta and Jamal have three arms, two legs, and one working kidney between the two of them.

Aside from being a straight-up weird statement without reading further (which is great! Anything that makes people read more!), I also used another countdown to give this sentence structure (three-two-one). The opening line also reflects the theme of the piece, body parts being replaced over time, but friendship lasting in the face of radical change. Since the final point is the individual parts don't really matter, I like that the story opens with parts in an unsorted jumble.


Nine-Lived Wonders

Quote
I’m six. It’s late in the room I share with my brother. Between our beds sits my dad, who is just a dark silhouette with a hand extended toward each of us to squeeze if the story gets too scary.

A pretty straightforward scene setting/character establishment. Not one of my more complicated hooks, although the "I'm six" bit becomes part of the framing device (each section doubles in age, 6-12-24-48).


Traveling Mercies

Quote
In the old stories, strangers at the door could be disguised gods, so you had to invite them in. It was a sin to turn away a guest.

A statement of theme (the sacred power of hospitality), hints at the story's central gimmick, and specifically designed with the closing lines in mind.


Who Binds and Looses the World with Her Hands

Quote
On days when Selene locked me in the lighthouse, an old familiar darkness would well up within me, itching my skin like it had shrunk too tight to contain my anger any longer.

This opening establishes that something is wrong (Selene locks the narrator up in a lighthouse on a regular basis), and also foreshadows the ending (that the narrator's nature is something more than human which has been entrapped in human form).
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