clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Opening, The Opening, The Opening.

Image at left hosted on wikicommons. Photographer: Russell James Smith. Lovely work and for the mere cost of attribution Mr. Smith allows its use here. Thank you, Mr. Smith. Great photograph.

Do you catch her eye and smile? Do you walk past and smile then? Maybe you wave at your friend at a table in the back along the wall and then smile at her before you start to walk.

It's an opening. She's there with friends just as you are.

Something tells you at first sight that that you should meet before the reality sets in and you know to just shuffle past to the pint waiting on the table. It's the better play. You won't forget the pint's name mid-conversation or find out she's Jeff's sister who you've already met twice.

For that instant though, you have a shot at the opening. You have a chance to meet and hold a conversation. You have a chance to say something.

That's your reader. They're just that elusive.

What's the opening and how can you keep them interested after smiling and saying "hi"?

In wading through my critique backlog (sorry all), I figure three sentences are about what it takes.

That's the reader's level of patience. You're in the bookstore. [ You know, place with books you buy. Google it. ] You're browsing. You open a book, look at the first page. You read a little and put it back.

That's what we've got as writers.

"A little of the first page."

Makes the whole she's-here-with-friends-just-like-you scenario look a whole lot easier.

The revolving door's swish-hiss didn't bring me out of Applied Thermodynamics there at the front desk as I held down the night manager gig. The sauntering tack-tack-tack of Saint Laurent's -- maybe Fendi's ? -- finest across the marble floor brought me right up on my feet. You learn things as the late-night man at a certain class of discreet downtown businessmen's hotel: expensive wives wear heels to a murder.

Maybe. Pretty staid. Has a mouth-feel after reading that's a little like cornmeal.

The sound of a pair of Saint Laurent's sauntering tack-tack-tack across the empty late-night lobby brought me to my feet, night manager and all. The revolving door at the front hadn't stopped its motion before she stands at the desk: a coiffed five-foot-nothing redhead walking on my month's paycheck worth of shoes, a Chanel suit smartly tailored, and an Uzi with the faint sheen of fine oil. She smiles.

Still slow to open. Nice -- but you're broken to the yoke. You know what to expect on the second one because you read the first. We don't get that in submission and it sounds like something else you've read from 1958, anyway. Hammett's books are still in print.


A fully coiffed five-foot-nothing of redhead steps out of the hotel's revolving doors and into the empty lobby wearing a smartly tailored Chanel suit and carrying an Uzi by its suppressor. She smiles at me as her heels tack-tack-tack a purposeful saunter across the marble. I smile back. My job. I'm the interim night desk manager, three years running.
Better. We're into something we didn't expect and perhaps a reaction we didn't anticipate. We might read on.

Not much difference between the words in these three openings. The first two drew a ton of passes, though. The third saw more success.

We're in the action in the third version from the first three words.

We're barely in the action on the first version by last sentence of the opening paragraph.

It's the second-to-last sentence in the second opening before we have anything "sharp" in the prose and then there's the last line twist, which I like.

The third puts us there and the tongue-in-cheek surety of the narrator ( whom we're sure is a smart-ass in the nicest way ) gives us reason to hope this isn't something we've read before. We can hope.

Coiffed redheads with Uzis? Break out the good stuff.

I've chased a lot of blondes. I marry redheads. I've got a thing for trouble.

Makes writing mayhem and murder a natural choice there, doesn't it?

Spill some ink like it was blood. Mind your opening moves.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Important post, Jack! The opening is so important. I ditched a book after about 30 seconds last night (dumping too much backstory on me and I was too sleepy to try to sort through it).

jack welling said...

Wow, thanks! I hate to slog through a expository opening. I hate it more when the author made no effort to immerse me in the scene. Dog knows, I've made bad tense choices for immersion enough in my day. POV errors, too.

Can't stand to sit back and "watch a story unfold" anymore. I have to feel something for my time investment. I'm reading Russians and am worried when I put down the book that somehow Solzhenitsyn might have managed to get something on me. I brush the front of my shirt instinctively.

That's some immersion. His battle scene in _August 1914_ is stunning.

Great to hear from you. Hope all is just grand!