I wish I didn’t have quite such a quirky a mind. My immediate reaction is a cartoonist, drawing a funny-looking Bob.
This Bob is resisting with all his strength, but has no hope. A rope around his neck is inexorably drawing him into a story, where he’ll do one of two things. Either he’ll survive, which proves that the Devil owns him so he’ll be burned at the stake, or he drowns, in which case he was innocent.
This can be my contribution to the international campaign to acknowledge women, because that’ll have made me the first non-female witch, right?
Oh… Maybe that wasn’t Rhobin’s intention. All right, what makes me drown in a story?
First, the author needs to tickle my interest. (STOP IT WITH THAT FEATHER!) The first paragraph needs to promise that I’ll be reading something I can’t find in ordinary, humdrum everyday life, or haven’t already encountered many times. Boy meets girl… Yawn. A crime has been committed, and the detective… Oh, haven’t I read this a thousand times? The Superman marches onto the stage, scattering two-dimensional villains out of his path… Yeah, right.
What I need is a person who will interest me, in a situation that immediately arouses my empathy — either empathy for this person, or empathy for this person’s victim (in some sense). I can have immediate disapproval for the character, or immediate sympathy… anything but a so-what.
How does this opening grab you?
“I intensely disliked my father’s fifth wife, but not to the point of murder.”
One sentence, and I want to read on. This is from one of my favourite writers, Dick Francis, in Hot Money.
“The first thing the boy Garion remembered was the kitchen at Faldor’s farm. For all the rest of his life he had a special warm feeling for kitchens and those peculiar sounds and smells that seemed somehow to combine into a bustling seriousness that had to do with love of food and comfort and security, and, above all, home. No matter how high Garion rose in life, he never forgot that all his memories began in that kitchen.”
That’s the start of Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings. It’s chatty, and from the outside, and yet, it grabs me because of the immediate liking I get for a little boy, combined with the promise of great things to come. How will a boy in a farmer’s kitchen ever rise high in life?
As for my own books, this opening won a prize in a “first page” contest:
“I’ve always thought that ‘an aching heart’ was a cliché, a metaphor, a mere turn of phrase. But during my daily visits to my dying mother, I learn that it is an exact description. My heart is where I feel the pain of grief.”
It is from Anikó: The stranger who loved me.
But when the hook has grabbed your interest, you still need to be induced to drown in the story. In fact, this needs to be done at the start of every chapter, scene transition, paragraph, even sentence.
The outside view in Pawn of Prophecy immediately disappears, and the reader is induced to BECOME the boy, Garion. Same with the other examples. The tool for that is “point of view” (POV). I have described how to use POV to create a powerful story, and how to pull the reader out of created reality in two places: in this ancient essay, and somewhat differently in a somewhat more recent one.
The second essential tool is tension. No, this is not the same as in knitting. Tension is when a character has become important to the reader, that character wants something very badly, but there is an apparently insuperable obstacle in the way. I’ve given several examples here, in a post I still find enjoyable, years later. You might, too.
Please comment, then visit these other participants in Rhobin’s Rounds.
Only, their posts will become visible on 21st March. I DID schedule this post, but WordPress thought it knew better, and released it too early.