Writing Time, Part 49. Hitting it out of the Park on Page One

The Coffeepot Diner, for the mystery novel The Extra, by Mel Anastasiou, line drawings by the author.
The Coffeepot Diner, for the mystery novel The Extra, by Mel Anastasiou, line drawings by the author.

Saving time through Previsions (the P is silent, as in Psmith) tends to be about thinking hard before sitting down to write. That is, taking five or ten minutes in a busy day to noodle on what’s coming up in your story.

For example, you don’t want to have to fix your opening of Chapter One to an editor’s suggestion. In fact, if your opening paragraphs read like they were the first thing that popped into your head, the editor will not read on, and you’ll have lost that time putting together your proposal.

Your opening image is worth working on. I suggest brainstorming 15-20 ways your story might begin. Just like a movie image, you’ll want it to be resonant and unique. Think of movie opening images, for some stick with you.

You’ll want to nail all of these, ideally in the first paragraph: Time of day, setting, tone, the promise of your genre, and a hint at the central conflict.

Take a look, for example, at the opening image of the 2007 movie Once. The first scene nails time (night) place (street in Dublin) the promise of genre (musical) and a hint at the central conflict, (a kind, talented man playing music in pain to an empty street, who clearly needs to get together with somebody — the title letters come together, and we have the advent of the girl who likes his music.)

There are plenty of books out there that nail these five vital aspects of your story right off the bat, so that readers will not replace your book on the shelf and move onto something more resonant. Of course, rules are meant to be broken — I’ve seen award-winners that begin with a two-page inner-voice rant. However, it’s a real pleasure to see instances where the five are nailed in the opening sentence: George Orwell’s 1984 – “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

And, because it’s a great help to us all, I must mention the biggest aid to writing your opening scene: your closing scene. Whether the first seeds the second, or you’ve got a circular tale on your hands, the fabulous end to your tale is your best help to writing a brilliant and engaging beginning.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing day. Cheers. Mel

muse smallThis week from @yourwritingmuse: There are no unimportant characters in your tale. Brilliant storytelling. From your Writing Muse

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