Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Beginnings: The Embellished and the Tearjerker

As a writer, hopefully, you realize how important your beginning is to your story. If you don’t invest time and probably tears (yours, not your characters’) into the first few pages, then why should the reader? I’ve talked about beginnings before. Here are a couple more types of beginnings to avoid.

The Embellished: This is when a story, especially a mystery, thriller, or romantic suspense, starts with the discovery of a body or a murderer in the act of killing. Those beginnings can be great, but the rest of the story has to follow the same level of darkness or mystery. The opening shouldn’t be so disturbing that the rest of the story can’t live up to that situation. An over-the-top, sensationalized beginning requires an action-packed, fast-moving story that keeps the reader on edge. Otherwise, the opening will seem contrived and the reader will feel manipulated. This doesn’t mean you can’t have slower scenes to give the reader a breather but that the danger hinted at or shown in the beginning should present itself throughout the novel.

The Tearjerker: This is when a character starts the story off with tears, especially when she “loses it”, and the reader doesn’t know why. The problem with this opening is that, while it may be well-written, the reader doesn’t know the character, what she has gone through or is going through now. There’s no way of evaluating whether the character is justified in her sorrow or being melodramatic. Plus, since the character is still a stranger to the reader, it’s easier to shut the book than take the time and effort to figure out what’s going on. Save this scene and use it once the reader has built a rapport with this character, then the situation will have a stronger impact.

I can’t say I’ve read many published books that started out with either one of these beginnings, but I have read some unpublished work like this. Opening scenes need to be a balance of a hook and set up—and I’m not talking about a backstory dump here—otherwise, you risk losing the reader.

Have you read stories with either of these beginnings? What’s your favorite kind of opening scene?

Lynnette Labelle

1 comment: