Opening for a Distinct Purpose and a Specific Reader

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I’ve been called lots of things in my life, (idiot, dreamer, tomboy, girlie, high-spirited, overly-animated, lazy, dull, nice, bossy, {ya think?} boring, ma’am {that one hurt the first time} honey, sugar, babe, gal, goody-two shoes, bawdy {my best friend since I was 8 accused me of this one, which I’ve adopted}, vicious, yada, yada …) and they were all true to one degree or another. But the people who know me best know I am a rule breaker. Maybe not overtly, maybe just sneakily, but I like to break them.

That admitted, I have to say that some rules are important, like not screaming, “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Not throwing water on a grease fire. Not paddling without the proper gear. {Whitewater paddling. Get your mind outta the gutter!  😀 } And never start a book, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Never start book with the MC sleeping and the phone / doorbell ringing. Those kind of rules are actually important and when unpublished writers break them (poorly) it might keep them unpublished. Yet, in last week’s post, I totally broke that last rule and still got published! Go me!

Of course, Stephen King could break every rule there is and his stories would still work and would still sell, because he is a master writer. And because his name is Stephen King. He has a built in audience who would read his laundry list and be looking for evil and goolies.

As we say here at MW – there is no one way to do anything. It simply has to work, and if it works and you broke a rule, well, “Go you!” Or, “Go Stephen!”

I posted last week about the opening to Mercy Blade and sjohnhughes made an interesting comment. Paraphrased – “Why didn’t you start with an action scene? Why did you start with your character waking up?” Interestingly, enough, I hate openings where the character is waking up. They break a rule, one I try to keep. Well …  Most of the time. John’s comment made me start thinking about openings and why we choose certain, very different types of openings for specific purposes and specific readers. And voila, we have this post.

The original opening of the manuscript for Mercy Blade that went to the editor and agent was action all the way. Both professionals wanted a slower opening–slower!—with good reasons, ones they patiently laid out for me, and that dealt with worldbuilding and time between books in this series. That original opening now starts on page 12, the beginning of chapter two. They also sent me list of criteria for the opening, which I should have included in last week’s post. (I have gone back made a note to look here.)

Criteria for opening: Jane and Rick were together in last book. Are they still? What is the nature of their current relationship? You show us the problems in the relationhip on page 143 and we need to see them right away as they are a major part of the book. Show us the setting in a way that reveals something about Jane. Show us the urgency of the opening conflict.

Yeah. Okay. So Jane is getting out of bed, breaking that rule, (I mentioned that I like to break them, yes?) weaponing-up, leaving Rick under the covers, in Asheville, NC (which set up book 4).

We cover openings a lot here at MW, and with good reason. They are the gateway into the world we created and our gateway into a publishing future. Bad opening, no success. Great opening, you make it one baby-step forward, or maybe one giant leap forward (Mother May I?) into first or continued publication. If you are new to the site, here are a few of the recent posts with openings as subject.

From David:

Here    And Here     And Here Too

From Diana:

And Here Three

The title of this post is—Opening for a Distinct Purpose and a Specific Reader, for a reason. When you are unpublished, and seeking representation and publication, you want to draw that first professional reader (editor or agent) into your work fastfastfast. You clearly want action, tension, and excitement over world building and you can do that because you have included a very professional letter of proposal or query, a short synopsis (which will include some worldbuilding) with the opening pages. That query and synopsis already tells your first reader about your book and world, so you can draw them into your action, character, and voice right away.

EXs:

The fist came
out of nowhere. The next thing Joe saw was the fall leaves on the path beneath him—far, far beneath him—as he was carried away. So far beneath him that his captor had to be a troll. Then the stench hit his nostrils and Joe knew he was in trouble. Stew-pot trouble.

Or

Joe knelt in
the path and drew out his largest brush. Gently, he swept fall leaves away from the indentation. His breath came fast as the sheer size of the depression was revealed. The footprint was at least two and half feet long, with sharply defined edges that were still damp to the touch. The footprint was fresh. His prey was shod with steel toed and hobnail boots, the kind once worn by mining dwarves and fairey loggers and traveling elves, when they had been as commonplace as the squirrels scampering overhead. Back before the People’s War.

I like the first one myself and that is the one I’d send to an agent I wanted to woo. But let’s look at the second one first. The second one is the one most likely to make it into the front of the book on the shelves. Why? It more clearly tells us story: who Joe is (professional tracker or hunter or even a paleontologist, maybe) what his world is (it had lots of varieties of sentient beings, but that changed after a war that his kind must have won.) This is worldbuilding.

What it doesn’t tell us is that Joe has a sense of humor even in the face of danger, which is more clearly seen in the first example. And that first example is character revealing. Character and voice sell books to professional agents and editors, and eventually they are what sell a book to the reading public. But the professionals believe that the average reader wants to know a bit more about everything in the fantasy world in the first few paragraphs, and that means world building. A different opening for a distinct purpose and a specific reader.

And sometimes, we get the opening to a book right on the first go-round, which is what my editor and agent said about the opening to Skinwalker:

Skinwalker
Chapter One
I Travel Light

I wheeled my bike down Decatur Street and eased deeper into the French Quarter, the bike’s engine purring.  My shotgun was slung over my back, a Benelli M4 Super 90, loaded for vamp with hand-packed silver-flechette rounds.  I carried a selection of silver crosses in my belt, hidden under my leather jacket, and stakes were secured in loops at my jeans-clad thighs.  The saddle bags on my bike were filled with my meager travel belongings—clothes in one side, tools of the trade in the other.  As a vamp killer for hire, I travel light.

I’d need to put the vamp hunting tools out of sight for my interview.  My hostess might be offended.  Not a good thing when said hostess held my next paycheck in her hands and possessed a set of fangs of her own.

Broken down:

I (shows first person POV) wheeled my bike down Decatur Street and eased deeper into the French Quarter, (pertains to setting)  the bike’s engine purring (pertains to time period {modern day} and character age {not a pedal bike, which *might* indicate a YA or sports story}).  My shotgun (pertains to character and subgenre) was slung over my back, a Benelli M4 Super 90, loaded for vamp with hand-packed silver-flechette rounds. (Pertains to subgenre {dark urban fantasy with maybe a hint of “techno porn”})  I carried a selection of silver crosses in my belt, hidden under my leather jacket, and stakes were secured in loops at my jeans-clad thighs. The saddle bags on my bike were filled with my meager (word choice pertains to character and asks the question, why meager?) travel belongings—clothes in one side, tools of the trade in the other.  As a vamp killer for hire, I travel light. (Ditto question above.)

I’d need to put the vamp hunting tools out of sight for my interview.  My hostess might be offended.  Not a good thing when said hostess held my next paycheck in her hands and possessed a set of fangs of her own. (Pertains to genre, character and voice.)

This was the first thing I wrote about Jane Yellowrock. It captured the voice and character perfectly and sold the manuscript to the first professional readers and the novel to the public. I merged character voice and character into one short piece and for once, didn’t have to add a chapter in front of the opening I used to sell the book to the
editor and agent.

May I suggest that you take your first para and break it down like this to see what it contains, what it shows about your book, and decide if you want to spice it up a bit (while keeping the original in reserves, of course) for the first professional reader. If you want to post it here feel free. I’d love to see them. But do keep it short! Maybe no more than 200 words.

Faith
www.faithhunter.net

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46 comments to Opening for a Distinct Purpose and a Specific Reader

  • I doubt I’ll have time today to do the exercise, alas, but I just wanted to say thanks for this, Faith. I’ll be starting work on the 3rd book in a series soon and a lot of what you talk about here seems particularly relevant. I had been assuming I had to star in media res, with an action scene–probably–but I’m now rethinking the book’s needs since it will have followed 2 others. Thanks! Will watch what happens today even if I can’t join in the fun.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you. This is a very interesting post, especially when I go back and compare it to the beginning of my WIP. I already posted my first paragraph when David was kind enough to offer to look at them for people, but it is very much of a world-building opening, and even uses a POV character who only appears one other time in the whole manuscript. However, at the end of the chapter, I switch to one of the main POV characters and it ALMOST seems like I could drop the opening stuff if I had to to give a first reader a taste of my main guy right away. Here’s the first 1.5 paragraphs of that section, with comments, and thanks for letting us post. 😀

    “The blood pounded in Jhohann’s ears as he raced to the top of the hillside. Above the shadows of the gulch, the setting sun cast a fierce, bloody light over the land where it stretched out north and east toward the plain, horizon lost in darkness and the smoke-haze. {{ hopefully describes both the setting and Jhohann’s current state of mind. }} The time between the slavers’ coming and his own could not be more than moments, but already they were gone, and some helpless traveler dragged away with them. {{ While the BigBadGuy is clearly indicated from the outset, there is a lot of sneakiness going on on both sides of the conflict and this gives some of the flavor of that stuff. }}

    Jhohann cursed. They’d taken three already this journey, snatched away from the caravan in the black of the night. That they struck again while the light still held galled. {{ It’s Jhohann’s job to protect these people. }} But more than that, Jhohann could not let them steal another. {{ And his desire to protect is a major component of his character. }}”

    Definitely not as nice and dense as yours, but I’m surprised at how fairly well it already represents my story…

  • mudepoz

    *Kofs* *Blushes* *Walks stiffly out of the room, while muttering* My character is in bed when she sees her grandmother’s spirit in the first paragraph. *Carefully shuts door).

  • Unicorn

    About five chapters into the second draft of my novel I finally figured out, with the help of Magical Words of course, that my hero had no backstory. (Pathetic, isn’t it.) So the opening is going to be entirely rewritten – later, because right now I’m finally building up some momentum in the middle.
    Anyway, this is the opening of my novella, which is still in its first draft so though I quite like this opening I know it must be pretty dreadful… sigh.

    Something was watching us. I was sure of it. {Conflict?} The forest around us seemed empty of anything except trees, birds and deer, {setting} but my warrior senses {character} were telling me that something was there and it wasn’t friendly. {more conflict, I think}
    The horses could feel it, too. My chestnut, Garrett, stopped suddenly and raised his head, his ears flicking back and forth {character}. He swung his head from side to side, but like me, he couldn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary. Prince Jacques’s {more character} mare pinned her ears back and shifted her weight uneasily.
    “What is it?” The Prince scanned the woods with eyes as grey as the sea. {character?}
    “I don’t know.” I dug my heel into Garrett’s ribs, turning him on his haunches to survey the area. {“survey the area” – to me that sounds like something a soldier would say, so I put it in for more character, though I’m not too sure about it} The wood was dense, and dark branches cloaked the deer path we were following. {setting} My palms began to sweat. I couldn’t see anything and somehow that was much worse than seeing the danger. {conflict} Garrett felt tense, ready to leap. I drew my sword. {conflict?}
    “Stay alert, my lord,” I told Prince Jacques. I saw him stiffen. As his most trusted bodyguard, I rarely called him ‘my lord’, and when I did, it meant trouble. {more character}

    Hmm, I just noticed that that opening seriously lacks genre. I’ll drop myself a note about that. Thanks so much for offering to have a look! This is a really great post, and I enjoyed the opening of “Skinwalker”.
    Thanks
    Unicorn

  • I’m on my way to roll a kayak in icy water (yeah, go ahead. Tell me I’m stupid) so I’ll answer only Mud right now and do the longer ones when I get back.

    Mud — You are writing YA. (Which I should have mentined. YA operates under its own rules.) That opening is fine.

  • Ken

    AHH…just when I been sure that I could clean out “Dropbox” and that it would be safe to check MW from work (I’m on a break. I am. Honest.)
    Thanks Faith for posting this. It helps to see it broken down the way you did. Hopefully I’ll have enough seconds to rub together later on tonight to post my first 200.

  • Oooh. *thinks* I’ve been thinking about this. My opening starts off with a hook, but then goes into a few paragaphs (about 250 words) of description/explanation/backstory before continuing with the action. Those paragaphs show her thought process, her reasoning, and the setting, but now I’m on the fence about them. I have about two more days to figure this one out.

  • I won’t call you stupid for playing in the icy water…but I will declare you’re way, way tougher than me.

  • Hep, I like what you have done here. You did a great job of indicating tension and worry and conflict. I like! It is full of emotion and unsettling potential. But I do have 2 questions/thoughts — remembering that it’s only me, and that I am all about breaking rules. :)

    Opening with any character other than the main character can be risky when selling to an agent or editor. If it was me, I’d skip to the main character, or make this character much more important to the manuscript.

    My second thought is about this sentence: Above the shadows of the gulch, the setting sun cast a fierce, bloody light over the land where it stretched out north and east toward the plain, horizon lost in darkness and the smoke-haze.

    Longer sentences slow down pace. Sorter sentences speed it up. This is a very long sentence for an opening, when you want to pull the reader into the pace and story, not let them settle. Just a thought.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you so much for your comments. I agree that there is something awkward about the sentence you pointed out, and figuring out a way to shorten it may be just what it needs.

  • Uni, that opening did not lack genre. If it’s magic, it might have lacked that, but it is clearly fantasy. I think you did a great job. The pacing was fast, the build up of the tension was excellent.

    And these lines >>“Stay alert, my lord,” I told Prince Jacques. I saw him stiffen. As his most trusted bodyguard, I rarely called him ‘my lord’, and when I did, it meant trouble. {more character} >> were absolutely perfect.

    Yhe only comment I *might* make is to ask a soldier if he would say “survey the area.” Like you, it felt a little off, though I have no suggestions as to what might work better.

    All in all — nice work.

  • Ken, I have yet to load DropBox on this new PC. Must do tonight. I lok forward to your 200.

    Laura, as long as it doesn’t read like an infodump you might be okay. If you have doubts, think about breaking it all up into smaller bits and toss it like confetti into the rest of the first chapter.

    Hep, I’d love to see the new first lines.

  • Misty, my writing has lagged all day. Now I feel refreshed and ready to write.

  • Ooh, another mini-critique. I love these.

    In her pre-dawn kitchen, Harvey cradled her tea in both hands, bowing her face so that her long hair fell in a curtain around the steaming mug. [establishes character – 3rd person, a woman, but with a masculine name.] The heat of the tea seeped through her hands into her bones, even as the linoleum stung her bare feet. [setting– shows modern urban]
    “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” she recited. The first beams of morning light shone through the window in the kitchen door onto her hair like a hand laid on in blessing. “Courage to change the things I can.” She breathed out, a measured, calming breath. She let go the tightness in her jaw, the iron stubbornness. “And the wisdom to know the difference.” She opened her eyes. [character and conflict – this woman has personal issues]
    Ravens filled the oak tree. They hopped and cawed in its branches, black wings flashing. Her knuckles whitened around the mug, but she took another measured breath, holding down the deadly thrum of violence that leaped up, ready to fight all comers. [conflict, both external and internal.]
    She stepped out onto the rubber welcome mat. Frost, not unusual for late November in Buffalo, still rimed the lawn. At the sight of her, the ravens rose in a cloud. The largest of them swooped toward her, barrel rolling through the air to land with a thump and a flutter on the iron railing.
    “Greetings, Hervor-lady, loaf-maker, hearth-woman.” He bowed on his perch. His eyes glittered with anticipation. “Trouble comes.” [genre and conflict – urban fantasy and announcement of a problem.]

    Hmm. I can see problems with this already, but I’m not sure what to do with them.

  • Distinctly nervous about it, but I’m going to play:

    The fight broke out from nothing, two of the snakes erupting into a squabble that had them twisting in the confines of her headscarf. Angry little hisses poured subliminal noise into Maddy’s ears and dripped on her nerves until she wanted to scream. It was tinnitus for the damned. [Establishes that MC not normal/human]

    “Knock it off,” she said. She stared at her computer screen and tried to carry on working. [And yet very normal at the same time]

    Both snakes ignored her and continued their fight. One by one the surrounding snakes were drawn in until a war raged under the thick cotton that covered her head and the fabric tore. [And you thought you had bad hair days]

  • Lovely post, Faith. And I have loved the opening of SKINWALKER since the first time I read it. You truly nailed that one. I don’t have time to play along — I’m leaving first thing tomorrow morning for World Fantasy Convention. But like A.J., I appreciate the post. I am working on revisions of Thieftaker II and this is very helpful.

  • Sarah, my initial reaction is that I love the voice and the character, but the flow is choppy in relation to the prayer. It is only a very few small things that grabbed me, a word choice in the first part and a transition in the second. I hope you don’t mind, but I played with a bit. For instance:

    Harvey cradled her tea in both hands, bowing her face in the pre-dawn light. Her long hair fell in a curtain around the steaming mug and onto the kitchen table. [establishes character – 3rd person, a woman, but with a masculine name. {Breaking it up this way moved the awkward *predawn kitchen out}] The heat of the tea seeped through her hands into her bones, even as the cold linoleum stung her bare feet. [setting– shows modern urban {*Cold.* Needed reason floor stung her feet}]

    “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” she recited. The first beams of morning light shone through the window in the kitchen door onto her hair like a hand laid on in blessing. (This is a wonderful image.) “Courage to change the things I can.” She breathed out, a measured, calming breath. She let go the tightness in her jaw, the iron stubbornness. “And the wisdom to know the difference.” She opened her eyes. [character and conflict – this woman has personal issues] (Here is wher you need a transition. She is bowed over her mug at the table and we have to move her to the porch. By adding the phrase *through the window* below, we see something is changeing and can accept the porch further down, without saying she got up and went there.)
    Through the window, she watched as ravens filled the oak tree. They hopped and cawed in its branches, black wings flashing. Her knuckles whitened around the mug, but she took another measured breath, holding down the deadly thrum of violence that leaped up, ready to fight all comers. [conflict, both external and internal.] (All comers might sound as if she is going to fight the ravens? Maybe, *ready to fight anything the ravens might bring her way* or portend, or something.)

    Holding the door open with an elbow, she stepped out onto the rubber welcome mat. Frost, not unusual for late November in Buffalo, still rimed the lawn. At the sight of her, the ravens rose in a cloud. The largest of them swooped toward her, barrel rolling through the air to land with a thump and a flutter on the iron railing.
    “Greetings, Hervor-lady, loaf-maker, hearth-woman.” He bowed on his perch. His eyes glittered with anticipation. “Trouble comes.” [genre and conflict – urban fantasy and announcement of a problem.]

    These are little things that might help, and that *might* have been the problems you were seeing. The main things – the voice and character – were quite wonderful!

  • David, hope you have a blast!

    Rosie, *This* is something new and different. I like. I got character and unique-ness, and felt a hint of humor in there too. While there is no conflict yet, I don’t think you need it until a couple paras further down (where you *will* need it), simply because the character is so different and enjoyable. Good job.

  • Vyton

    While Sendella stirred the infusion in the granite mug with her left hand, she ran her fingers through her long blond hair falling over her forehead. She sat at the formica kitchen table with her face close over the mug. By holding her third and fourth fingers apart, she created a small gap in her locks that allowed the brilliant green of her third eye to peek through. Through that gap she spied an indeterminate biped standing outside her kitchen window.

    She showed no reaction and rose with casual grace unusual for her at that hour. As she strolled into the hall, she picked up a thirty-four inch Louisville Slugger signed by Harmon Killebrew. On light feet honed by too many long-range patrols, she approached the creature from behind. Its species — male, hairy, upright, dressed in blue overalls, no shirt — was still vague. But his neck broke just as it should when she swung for one high and outside.

  • Vyton, I’m hooked. That green eye and the *indeterminate biped* were unique and eerie and lovely.

    A few very tiny things.
    Starting a book with *while* is a slow opening. Could you redo to start with her name?
    A granite mug is going to be very heavy, hard to heat, and likely to leach all heat from the beverage inside, though I adore the image and it makes us know she is strong, and you may *need* to use granite. If not, at some point, address the problems of drinking from granite? Or change to some other stone that can be carved quite thin? Maybe carved alabaster?
    Did she actually put her hand into the liquid to stir it?

    That’s all. Loved the eye and and the L. slugger! Great details give the reader immediacy and you did that very well.

  • MaCrae

    Here’s my disaster of a beginning. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t jump into the middle of the action like I did. I don’t think it has any character voice in it. It jumps you haphazardly (on purpose) into the magic system. The MC being un-named is deliberate. But I haven’t a clue how to start it otherwise and later on there’s a HUGE *wails horrendously* info dump I can’t seem to do anything with.

    It’s very haphazardly and is only my first draft.

    It came flying across the room and caught her in the chest. She was flung into the wall. It knocked the breath out of her and she took in air with a horrendous gasp. She frantically dove for the nearest barricade, which shuddered and cracked with the lightning strike from her opponent. She sat back against it, chest heaving. She tensed and sprang sideways for the next barricade and shot a compressed white ball to the other side of the room. It exploded, showering the room in an electric whiteout. Inside the cloud, little balls of lightning zapped her skin, gentle only to her. She scrambled behind the barricade and listened, waiting. A force of light exploded, forcing her to close her eyes against the brightness. She opened her eyes. Then closed and opened them again. She shook her head desperately; she was blind! She crouched, squinting her eyes, trying to see anything through the whiteness. There was a scrape to her left and she whirled towards it, drawing her sword. It was smacked from her hand with enough force to send it spinning into the wall. She received a hit to the head and was sent sprawling on her back. “ What was that? Spectral and Cimmerian are opposites. Opposites are always the most lethal against each other, dullbrain. You should’ve used Cimmerian against my attack. You weren’t even expecting me to attack you either. Have you learned nothing?” A voice said. She blinked hard, her sight returned to her like a slow sunrise. She squinted up at Cyryce, who was pointing at her with a wooden sword.

  • My WIP starts with my main character facing off against a Mesopotamian deity (or demon, if you will), in that alternate god-world reality, where’s she’s rather painfully given charge of some magical nastiness. The part that’s killin’ me? She copes with this by assuming it’s a dream. I’ve tried to rewrite it a bazillion times, but folk seem to prefer it as it is. Whine…

    At least I clearly do character development, voice, genre and the like. Small favors.

    Anyway, this post is timely, as I’m about to dive into another project for NaNoWriMo, and I’ll do my first draft of an opening page next Tuesday. Funny thing is, I’ll probably write it on Decatur street in the French Quarter, recovering from Halloween revelry.

  • Oh, and I’ll be brave…still a bit rough and it shows that I need to chip away at that million-word I’m a writer mark.

    Demon? Angel? [genre: fantasy-ish] The being towering before me [first person] was beautiful. Huge muscles rippled under its golden skin, drawing my eyes over every inch of its exquisitely proportioned body. It was a celestial vision, an Adonis. [genre: a bit of randiness, er, romance] With two sets of immense feathered wings extending from its back and a lion’s head perched on a long neck, this creature was more than your typical Greek (setting: earth) heartthrob.
    It wore only a loincloth of shimmering silver, held fast by a great golden belt inscribed with angular symbols. That and some good sunscreen (setting/genre: urban fantasy) was more than adequate attire under the hot desert sun (setting) that was currently searing my pasty skin (character description), but I suspected my new acquaintance was perfectly comfortable without protection. (character voice)
    Its feline face was serene, but fire burned within its red eyes. It was a look of divine confidence.
    Or perhaps infernal arrogance. (conflict)
    I felt small. Bottom-of-the-food-chain small. I commanded my legs to run but they were too busy quivering helplessly. I just stood there, fear oozing from every pore. (voice, conflict)

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Ok, here’s my ATTEMPT at making that sentence shorter (long sentences are one of my big writing problems – LOTS of other places need similar revision). Also, Jhohann IS one of the MCs – not sure if I was clear about that before.

    “The blood pounded in Jhohann’s ears as he raced to the top of the hillside. Above the shadowed gulch, the setting sun cast a fierce, bloody light, while to north and east stretched the plain, horizon lost in darkness and the smoke-haze. The time between the slavers’ coming and his own could not be more than moments, but already they were gone, some helpless traveler dragged away with them.”

    (So much fun getting tastes of everybody’s stories!)

  • McCrae, I love the action scene, but two things might help both readability and pace. The use of the word *it* for the blows makes the opening of the scene confusing. This small spot >> horrendous gasp. She frantically dove >>, might be stronger and read faster if you will show us a bit more rather than use the dewscriptive words, . For ex: painful gasp that tore superheated air through her lungs (or something). And Frantic, she dove.

    Just a thought. And again, it’s only my opinion!

  • Roxanne, I am glad you took a chande. Actually romance (erotica, paranormal romance) has a wider acceptance of dream openings. I think you did it fine. However, this line needs to be rewritten to remove the word beautiful. We just need to se it, here. These lines —

    >>The being towering before me [first person] was beautiful. Huge muscles rippled under its golden skin, drawing my eyes over every inch of its exquisitely proportioned body. >>

    Could be done something like

    The being towering before me [first person] had huge muscles that rippled under its golden skin. My eyes flowed over every inch of its exquisitely proportioned body. Oh. My. God. Or not…

    Something like that.

  • What a generous offer, and an interesting post. I have been a MW lurker for a bit now, but would be happy to get your feedback on my opening (technically 2 paragraphs). Thanks a bunch! :)

    The Hairy Lady, blend of smoke-filled pub and upscale bomb shelter, was a dangerous place at the best of times. It wasn’t the best of times; not for me. [I added in the couple of words of description after reading your post and realizing it was a very vague sentence without it. Not sure the word choice is perfect yet.]

    I curled my hands around my beer and stared at the black granite bar. Flecks of silver floated in it like stars. Reflected among them, a Spartan stared back at me. His bronze breastplate was splashed with blood, a naked sword lay on the table in front of him, and his unblinking eyes smoldered like a torturer’s irons. I knew him-—Mendonia: head of Broken’s Spartans and an utter bastard.

  • Hep — that is much better! I like.

  • Vyton

    Thanks, Faith. It’s a post-event world where plastics are avoided. Stone, metal, and wood are the materials of choice. The Korean dish Bi Bim Bop is served in a very not granite bowl. The use of this *graniteware* goes along those lines. I appreciate your ideas and will use them. Oh — she would need a spoon.

  • Unicorn

    Thanks a lot, Faith, I appreciate it. Great to know that at least the opening isn’t too bad. Now just to find a soldier…

  • TwilightHero

    Are you still doing reviews or have I missed the party?

    Well, for what it’s worth, here’s the first few paragraphs of my WIP. From the prologue, which, along with a few flashback sequences and part of the epilogue, takes place over 2,000 thousand years before the main story (so I think I’m justified in having a prologue and epilogue =D).

    Olsten stared sightlessly up at the clear blue sky, what little of it could be seen through the verdant shroud of the forest canopy. (Setting.)His long black hair was spread out haphazardly around his head, not quite covering his pointed ears. (He’s an elf.) Glassy dark eyes matched the hair.
    The boy was dead. Vallen didn’t want to admit it…yet it was true. His only nephew, the son of his older sister, now long dead in the war. Most of his family, the Na’diera (the name is relevant in a sneaky way I’m quite proud of, though it does kind of break the sentence flow), had died during the war, and the rest in what had come afterwards. (Minor hook – what happened afterwards? This character is a bit angry and cynical. This is the first of several snippets of backstory explaining why he’s like that.) The boy had been all he had left. Tears were beginning to blur his vision, and he had to make an effort to force them back. Slowly, he reached down and closed his nephew’s eyes. Now he had no one.
    Rising from where he had been kneeling by Olsten’s corpse, his own, pale green eyes were drawn to the terrible gash in the boy’s chest. (How he died.) The blood had stopped seeping from the wound but now soaked his nephew’s clothing, turning the green dye an ugly red and staining the ground beneath him. A pity his killer had not suffered the same. (Another hook – what happened to the killer?)

  • Vyton

    Faith, thanks again for this post and your specific comments. Just for grins, here is the re-do.

    Sendella stirred the infusion in the granite mug with a spoon in her left hand. With her right hand, she ran her fingers through the long blond hair falling over her forehead. She sat at the kitchen table with her face close over the mug. By holding her third and fourth fingers apart, she created a small gap in her locks that allowed the brilliant green of her third eye to peek through. Through that gap she spied an indeterminate biped standing outside her kitchen window.

    She showed no reaction and rose with casual grace unusual for her at that hour. As she strolled into the hall, she picked up a thirty-four inch Louisville Slugger signed by Harmon Killebrew. On light feet honed by too many long-range patrols, she approached the creature from behind. Its species — male, hairy, upright, dressed in blue overalls, no shirt — was still vague. But his neck broke just as it should when she swung for one high and outside.

  • Vyton, better, but now you slid into the *same-type-of-sentence* trap. (grins) Look at the first word of every sentence in the first para!

    Sendella. With. She. By. Through.

    You have three sentences that start with the same type of word — with, by, through. Try to remove two of those. Yes, I know, it’s like a game. But often – very often — first paras are built, not written.

    Unicorn, glad to help.

  • Twililght, Fitst paras are very hard, deciding what we need, and what we don’t. Pacing is totally important as we pull the reader in, hinting rather than telling. Your third para is great, as you hit your stride, but you are trying to suff too much stuff into the fist part and that slows it down. There are a few things that could be moved around to give you a faster hook and speed up the pace. Suggestions:

    Olsten stared sightlessly at the clear blue sky, {[move this line down. It slows pace here]what little of it could be seen through the verdant shroud of the forest canopy}. (Setting.)His long black hair was spread out haphazardly around his head, not quite covering his pointed ears. (He’s an elf.) {[ this isn’t necessary, and could be removed totally]Glassy dark eyes matched the hair.}
    The boy was dead. {[ This becomes obvious thruogh the emotion of the para, and the revelation is stronger without the telling here. Suggest you cut it.] Vallen didn’t want to admit it…yet it was true.] [{Move *his only nephew* up beside the *the boy* in prev. line.} His only nephew,] [{ suggest cut htis part, as it’s clear from the next line} the son of his older sister, now long dead in the war.] Most of his family, the Na’diera (the name is relevant in a sneaky way I’m quite proud of, though it does kind of break the sentence flow), had died during the war, and the rest in what had come afterwards. (Minor hook – what happened afterwards? This character is a bit angry and cynical. This is the first of several snippets of backstory explaining why he’s like that.) The boy had been all he had left. Tears were beginning to blur his vision, and he had to make an effort to force them back. Slowly, he reached down and closed his nephew’s eyes. Now he had no one.

    So it would read like:
    Olsten stared sightlessly at the clear blue sky. His long black hair was spread out haphazardly around his head, not quite covering his pointed ears. The boy, his only nephew, was dead, along with most of his family. The Na’diera had died during the war, and in what had come afterwards. The boy had been all he had left. Tears were beginning to blur his vision, and he forceed them back. Slowly, Vallen reached down and closed his nephew’s eyes. Now he had no one.

  • bonesweetbone

    Sorry if I’m late to the party, too. Work got in the way. ): This is from the first draft of my WIP which I’ve refused to go back and edit until I finish said first draft, so it’s pretty rough. It’s kind of a reverse fairytale, at least in terms of sex/gender. It’s also tentatively YA. Hoping to add more description in future drafts. Setting, etc. is in later paragraphs at the moment.

    Marian was worried (Telling instead of showing on purpose, but not sure if it weakens it). Tia was one of her most promising students (Backstory/relationship). As the end of Hunting Season neared and her request that Tia report her progress remained ignored, it was hard to believe something hadn’t happened to her (Conflict, backstory, introduction of major plot point). As she made her journey to the Caves, she came to the conclusion over and over that it was unnecessarily risky to search for her. Her feet continued forward, regardless (Character, setting).

    Death wasn’t uncommon among their kind. On becoming a knight, a woman put her life second to rescuing those abducted by the dragons during the few months of the year they courted one another (Major plot point, establishing alternative reality and genre). The peasants morbidly dubbed the time Hunting Season, though no one knew if the term alluded to the dragons’ hunt for a mate or the knights’ rescue missions (History/Worldbuilding). The terrain was just as dangerous as the beasts that called it home (Setting/Mood).

  • We are seeing some very unusual characters and idea here. I like!

    Bone, I agree. I like it all eacept that first sentence. It is bland in compariason to the rest.

  • Faith, out of curiosity, what did you mean when you said to Mud, “YA operates under its own rules”?

  • Vyton

    Yep, I sure did. Thanks again.

  • Hi Faith. I tried to comment, but it looks like my post is ‘awaiting moderation’. It might be because there is some mild profanity in the text excerpt I included. Hopefully it doesn’t stop me from participating! :)

    Adrian.

  • Hey Laura. Yeah, every genra has its own loosly kept *rules*. Erotica has to have LOTS of on screen sex, rule. Romance has to have to have some on screen sex, rule. Christian romance has no on screen sex, rule. Techno porn has to have lots of guns, explosions, and descriptions of guns and explosions, rule. Mystery has to have dead bodies, preferably on page one, rule.

    For YA, there is the no sex, rule. The *it’s okay to dwell on angst* rule. And the *if the opening works, it’s okay, rule*. While I’d still not want to open with the tired scene of the doorbell or phone ringing while MC is asleep, it was pretty cool to have the MC wake up to find a ghost at the foot of the bed. It worked.

  • Adrian, I have no idea what went wrong, but just in case, send it to my private email at faith@faithhunter.net. I’ll check it there and get back to you privately.

  • MaCrae

    Thanks for the advice! So should I call the “it”, “the projectile” or something? And my “horrendous gasp” is telling, rather than showing? And I have been told that my beginning is very abrupt, does fantasy (epic, deep, whatever)need a specific beginning? I know that there is no right way to write books, but what would be a better beginning?

  • MaCrae, I loved the fight scene opening. I wouldn’t change that at all, not until an agent or editor asked you to. And even them I’d store that opening for just in case you needed it later for another rewrite.

    The projectile is much better than *it*. But then I’m asking, what kind of projectile. Magical?

  • TwilightHero

    Thanks Faith =) Honestly, I hadn’t spent a lot of time on my opening paragraphs – too impatient to get on with the story. So I’m not surprised they needed work. How’s this:

    The boy stared sightlessly at the forest canopy(1). Long, dark hair sprawled haphazardly around his head, not quite covering pointed ears. His sister’s son, her only child(2), was dead, and now he had no family(3). The Na’diera had mostly died during the war, the rest in what had come afterwards(4). The boy had been all he had left. Tears were beginning to blur his vision, and he forced them back. Slowly, Vallen reached down and closed his nephew’s eyes. Now he had no one.
    Rising from where he had been kneeling by Olsten’s corpse…etc, etc.

    (1) Since you can barely see the sky anyway, I figured I should cut that and just establish the forest setting.

    (2) I know this isn’t that important and could be cut, I just liked the flow of how you did it. (Three commas, then one, then none.)

    (3) I wasn’t sure about this, since it’s pretty similar to that last line in the paragraph. It sounds all right, but what do you think?

    And (4), I wanted to keep the different rates of his family’s deaths for specificity. Call it personal preference =P

  • bonesweetbone

    Thank you so much! I’ll keep that in mind in revisions!

  • Very good, Twilight!
    You are welcome, Bone!