A couple of posts ago, I discussed writing my second novel, THE LUMINOSITY OF BLACK and the need to return to the first one, OF FATES CONVERGED, for more edits. This includes a complete rewrite of the first chapter.
Not something I was really happy to have to do again, but as my fellow writers know, it’s imperative that the opening few pages of your novel catch the reader immediately. This is especially so for the writer trying to query a novel for the first time. Nailing down the opening for FATES has been the most challenging thing I’ve dealt with in my extremely short writing career.
The Telegraph just released a list of some of the greatest opening line in literature. There’s a ton of great ones in there, but may favorite has to be from Stephen King’s THE GUNSLINGER. This line (and novel) blew me away when I first read it back in junior high and was one of the true drivers me wanting to become a writer later in life. Reading The Dark Tower, especially the first four books, was when I was first like ‘damn I real want to make something like this.’ So what is that great first line from THE GUNSLINGER?
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
So simply, but so perfect. The line does the job that it’s supposed to – it sets up the action forthcoming and hooks the reader with an interesting premise. Who is this man in black and why is the gunslinger chasing him across the desert?
Boom. There it is. Perfect.
Now I’m not saying I’m going to be able to craft an opening line or chapter of FATES thats ‘s great as the ones mentioned above, but I’ve will need to find one that’s engaging to the reader and gives them an attachment to the main character, Alexia Anarita right from the get-go. So I thought for this post, maybe it would interesting to take a trip down memory lane and see how FATES’ opener has evolved and where I’m at with it now.
The beginning of FATES, oh so many years ago, began with Alexia waking up in the morning and checking herself out in a mirror. This was it:
Alexia Anarita woke that morning as she would have any other, rising slowly out of bed and stretching, muscles creaking and bones cracking. She winced slightly at each small twinge of soreness, as her body pulled itself awake.
The most cliched opening for a novel possible, aside from maybe the main character describing the weather (that of course was about three pages later in FATES) was the original opener. Back then I was under the impression the best way to start a story was to just start at the beginning. A great many writers and publishing professionals suggest, however, that you need to start in the middle of the action. To that end, I decided to add a prologue, one that would be right in the middle of a scene full of action. This prologue took place in the past and set up one of the major villains who would eventually show up in the story’s current time. The beginning of that prologue went a little something like this:
“Do you truly think these bonds will hold me forever?” the creature screamed at its captors. “That these craven mages have the will and the stamina to withstand the horrors that await them within these walls?” The monstrosity whipped its head towards each of the auramancers that had encircled it.
A little more action filled than the original beginning, some snappy dialogue and a bit of intrigue as to who this creature might be. I also decided to keep the Alexia-Waking-Up scene for the beginning of the first chapter, one because I just didn’t want to rewrite it and two because I thought with an action filled prologue, the more mundane intro to the MC would be okay. Welp, after attending Writers Digest Conference East, where I went to a really great seminar about what to have in a novels opening pages – a came away with this:
Don’t have your main character just waking up and going about his or her day.
Don’t start with a prologue because you need to intro the man character in the opening pages and connect them with the reader.
I had both of those things. Together. In the same ten pages. The rewrite I was so loath to do was really necessary at this point. But even with the knowledge I returned from WDCE, I still think starting at the beginning and introducing the Alexia and her surroundings still was the right way to go with FATES. I think this is true for an epic fantasy, where you need a world-building base to start from, a place and character to ground the reader with. So here’s the new opening paragraph I’m running with:
Shadows danced flicker-form across the walls of Alexia Anarita’s bedroom. The slender black figures of heroes and of monsters and of gods leapt from tawny paper and formed across worn and knotted wood in a lantern’s amber light. Alexia ran her fingertip down the edge of a page as the familiar musk of parchment dulled by age filled her nose. Intoxicating to her was the aroma of history, of legends, of grand stories awaiting within these pages.
Here you get a taste of Alexia’s character right off from the beginning – she’s a bookish young woman who seeks to escape her mundane life through stories (like this one!). Much better, I think than her waking up in the morning and you, the reader, just being told she has a boring life. There’s still a lot of rewriting besides this that needs to be done – the original version of this chapter had Alexia going down to market and interacting with the other townsfolk – decent world-building – I thought. A lot of expository stuff needs to be cleaned up too and I’m going to try and have Alexia’s home and supporting cast get introduced in a more organic fashion.
So do you all think I made the right choice? And what are your thoughts about opening lines in novels? Do you have to start in the middle of the action or can there be a slow build of character and world from the beginning?