Wednesday 23 August 2017

Opening lines - and pinching stuff from Shakespeare.

Whole seminars are taught at conferences and writing courses on opening lines. They matter. An intriguing or memorable opening line can grab a potential reader and make them want to read the book. 

No pressure then.

An opening line might come to you out of the blue. I have a cracker – actually not an opening line, but the closing line of an opening paragraph that I think is intriguing enough to be workable. Problem is, it has no book attached to it and I’m not sure that it ever will.  Most openers have to be laboured over, or at least kicked about until they pass muster. The big writing tip on that one is to write the first line after you’ve written the whole book. Unless you’ve got that cracker lined up already, put something in place that is good enough to set the tone and come back to it. Jumping into a new book can be hard – all that blank paper waiting to be filled – it doesn’t need to be made worse because you can’t get the first ten or so words just right before you begin.

I don't think so.
And where can you go for help?  Well, there are those courses and seminars, but there’s always the option of looking at what other people have done. I’m a fan of the theatre, so I find plays quite inspiring and if you’re looking there, then you might as well go right to the top and consider Shakespeare.  An interesting number of the plays begin in the middle of a conversation – sometimes a quarrel, or a moment where action is moving from one point to another. The Comedy of Errors begins with someone being sentenced to death, which is pretty dramatic.  Often these conversations are between minor characters, talking about the main protagonists, building up to the big entrance for the star of the show. That one can get you into trouble though, as readers can get invested in the wrong people, thinking the story is about them. I’ve fallen foul of that one a number of times.

But the idea of beginning in the middle of something – where the action has already started taking place ‘off stage’ might just be something to get the thing going. What’s the point that is going to launch this story into its orbit? What are the essentials that the reader needs to know? How dramatically can that be conveyed? Is there a sentence that can sum that up?  Can you get the reader into the action and drip feed the back story in later? All ideas to play with.

And you can always come back to that opening line later.   

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