Friday, February 4, 2011

Guest Blogger: Anna Kathryn Lanier "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night"

The most important line in your entire novel is the opening line. It must grab the attention of the reader. If it does not, she will stop reading, put the book down and pick up one that does grab her attention.  Sharon Sorenson in HOW TO WRITE SHORT STORIES says the beginning of a story must accomplish four goals:

-          It must immediately catch the reader’s attention
-          It must draw the reader into your character’s world
-          It must establish the tone
-          It must begin with conflict

In THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR ROMANCE PUBLISHED, Julie Beard says you start your story with a Big Bang—“ a combination of hot elements (hero and heroine with great chemistry),  in a volatile environment (a sexually charged romantic setting) and start with an explosion (action).”   The opening should have something that hooks the reader with either action, a problem, a surprise or a change for the main character.

Beard says that opening lines should:

-          Catch the reader’s interest with humor, action or danger
-          Get right to the point
-           Raise a question: Why is this so? Or, what is happening? By raising a question, you increase the odds the reader will keep reading to find the answer

Christie Craig and Faye Hughes, in THE EVERYTHING GUIDE TO WRITING A ROMANCE NOVEL suggest elements on how to open a romance novel:

-          The hero introduces the conflict, through either the intriguing premise or precipitating event
-          The heroine introduces the conflict, through either the intriguing premise or precipitating event
-          The villain introduces the threat of danger or other major subplot that serves as the external conflict

An opening should “hook” your reader with “something that will grab your reader’s attention and make her want to read your book ahead of any other book presented to her.”  Ah, but how do you “hook” the romance reader?  Craig and Hughes offer two techniques: the intriguing premise or the precipitating event.

-          The Intriguing Premise “is the bare bones of the plot, the concept behind the novel that intrigues and sparks the reader’s curiosity.” You hook your reader into the plot by engaging in her emotions and making her care about your characters.
-          The Precipitating Event ‘is the initial moment of crisis or moment of change.”

Whichever technique you choose to start your story with, you must always start where “things begin to get interesting, when the conflict arises.”  Often, a writer will try to explain the situation or tell the reader how the hero got to point the story opens.  This is backstory and will only drag down the opening.  So STOP!  Start with the conflict, the problem, the challenge….don’t explain how the hero ended up in a life or death fight, just show it happening.  Don’t explain how the heroine ended up on the doorstep of the hero, just put her there.

It’s also important to remember, says Craig and Hughes, that the opening line matches the tone of your novel.  If your novel is dark, don’t open with a joke.  If your novel is a romantic comedy, opening with a grisly murder probably isn’t the best idea.  I know, these are extreme examples, but you get the idea.

In one of my stories, the open line is “Gavin Holloway was a leg man and the legs standing beside the information desk had more than his attention on alert.”  As I wrote THE PRICELESS GIFT, I realized I needed to make reference to this opening sentence at least once during the book.  I couldn’t hook the reader in with him being a leg man without talking about the legs later in the book. I’d given a promise and I needed to fulfill it.

Here’s a few more example of opening lines:

The worst part about murdering someone was planning exactly how to do it. – DIVORCED, DESPERATE AND DATING by Christie Craig

“Not again,” Leah Smith swore under her breath as she strode into the warm lobby of the Kemah Towers Condominiums. – A COWBOY’S DREAM, by Anna Kathryn Lanier

Nothing hounded a time guardian more than duty. – SPELL OF THE KILLING MOON by Skhye Moncrief

Charlotte set the wine goblet on the wooden stool she had snuck away from beside the central camp fire. – CHARLOTTE AND THE GYPSY by Jannine Corti-Petski

Sheriff Dave Slade snapped his watch closed and stuffed the timepiece back into his vest pocket. The stage, with the answer to his prayers, arrived in ten minutes. – SALVATION BRIDE, by Anna Kathryn Lanier (I know, that’s two sentences. I cheated, because I wanted to hook you more)

“You want me to do what?” – THE DOCTOR WEARS A STETSON by Anne Marie Novark

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. – PAUL CLIFFORD by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, First Baron of Lytton

What is one of your favorite opening lines by another author?  What is your own favorite line?  Leave a comment and you could win a copy of THE PRICELESS GIFT, which has my favorite opening line.

Anna Kathryn Lanier is a multipublished author with The Wild Rose Press.

Anna Kathryn Lanier


Patricia Preston said...

Thanks for a great post and being my guest, Anna

Melinda H Harrison said...

That's an excellent post. I have bookmarked it. Thanks.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Patricia. Thanks for having me today. At least reading the comments will divert me from the forozen roads of Houston and all the accidents happening. Everyone where conditions are unsafe, stay safe!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Anna. Opening line are criticle....I too find myself standing in bookstores and doing just that, reading them, before buying one that grabbed my attention.


Reina said...

Good reminders to start in action. I always give a book at least a paragraph or two to hook me, though. One sentence isn't enough.
That being said, two of my favorites are:
"'I am not a pest,' Ramona Quimby told her big sister Beezus." (Beverley Cleary)
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." (Jane Austen)
And, from my own books, not that I place myself in the above strata, but you asked...
"'You are in need of a husband,' Cecilia's mother admonished her."
Thanks for the post. Reminding writers to start on the run, so to speak, is always helpful. :) Hope you can stay warm!

Tess said...

I have the book, so don't put me in the drawing for it (and it's wonderful, btw). One of my favorite authors is Lisa Kleypas, so I picked a first line from her book Again the Magic...A stable boy wasn't supposed to speak to an earl's daughter, much less climb up to her bedroom window.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Cindy. Thanks for stopping by and sharing how you choose a book.

Hi, Reina, I almost put the line for Pride and Prejudice in my samples, glad you added it.

Hi, Tess. I love Lisa, too. Love the line, it certainly gets your attention. Well, Tess, if you win, you could choose another story....

Colleen said...

“What you’re telling me is this. You seek to get an annulment from your wife so you are free to marry your wife.”

Opening line of my WIP, The Elusive Wife

Pat said...

Great post. I,too, will save it for future reference. Here's my favorite opening line from Susan May Warren's Reclaiming Nick:
"When the lanky form of Saul Lovell walked into the Watering Hole Café, dragging with him the remnants of the late April chill, Nick Noble knew that his last hope of redemption had died."

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Colleen and Pat. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your favorite opening lines. They are both great lines and catch the interest.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Great opening lines. My head is stuffed up right now so I can't think of the line, but I know the opening to Rebecca is something that drew me into the story and I've read it so many times.

Lots to think about. Thanks!

MaryG said...

"I would like to state for the record that I tried to say no."
From Beth Kendrick's "My favorite Mistake."

Thanks for the good post. Those first lines can really be hard to write.

Lilly Gayle said...

Great post!