Saturday, 24 September 2011

Open with a BANG!

Last week at Sheridan College, I asked my fiction writing students this question:
“How long do you wait when watching a movie or tv show before switching channels?’

Five minutes?  Two minutes?  30 seconds?  The responses varied, but averaged out at one minute.

I told them: “One minute.  That is one page of movie script.  The first page of a novel.  So you are telling me that if the FIRST PAGE of writing doesn’t grab you, you don’t give the book/movie/sitcom a chance?”

Struck dumb, is how they looked.  Yes, audiences are a fickle lot now.  You have to grab them on your first page these days, and better – with your first line!

How to do it?

Start in the middle of something.  Start with action or dialogue.  Do NOT open with the weather, or description of location, or simple back-story.  Start with the meat.

Here’s an example from my novel, Rowena Through the Wall:

“I saw the first one right after class.”

This is a perfect opening line to teach from.  This sentence does many things:

  1. It opens with the protagonist.  “I saw” – from this, we know that the book will be in first person – we are introduced to our protagonist.

In fiction, readers expect the first person they encounter, to be the protagonist.  This is the character they expect to become attached to.  Don’t disappoint them.

  1. It opens with mystery:  “I saw the first one...”
First one of what?  And – it’s the first, so we know there will be more!  Lots of questions to intrigue the reader.

  1. It gives some clue to setting.  “…right after class.” 

In those well-chosen eight words, we have introduced the protagonist, the setting and a mystery.

Other good openers:

“He was a well-dressed burglar, Marge had to admit.” (from “School for Burglars")

Marge is the protagonist; she is watching a burglary in progress.  Talk about opening in the middle of something!  And we have a picture of the burglar in our minds.

“The thing that shocked Emily was how incredibly easy it was to hide a murder.”
(from “Life Without George”)

Emily is the protagonist, and probably a murderer.  Will she get away with it?  Will we want her to get away with it?

All this, from one line.  Open your books with a bang!  Your readers will keep reading.

Melodie's book 'Rowena Through the Wall' hit no. 2 on bestseller list (fantasy, futuristic) in Aug.
Follow Melodie's comic blog on
Twitter: @MelodieCampbell