My first article assignment for the Reading in the Genre: The Haunted for my Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction through Seton Hill University is from Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction. The article is called, “You Have to Start with SOMETHING, So It Might As Well Be Something Like This” by Gary A. Braunbeck.
Finding the proper place to start a story is more complicated than people think. The author of any story needs to know what happened before the readers jump into the story, but where to draw them in is sometimes a very difficult point to find. Do you start with the abusive relationship and the fight that lead to murder or do you start with the body? I think that this is a point that all writers struggle with – where to start the story so that readers will want to continue until the story is done and then beg for more?
Gary A. Braunbeck says on page 17, “I have, through the experiences of my own reading and writing, come to the conclusion that there are three and only three types of opening lines, which can best be summed up by the following words: Assault, Intrigue, and Beguile.”
The article goes on to define and articulate examples of each of these opening lines, siting a variety of books across a variety of authors. Some of the opening lines are quite subtle, while others are very active and almost violent while still others border on the slightly confusing.
When Gary A. Braunbeck talks about Assaulting Them, he says, “It machineguns so much information at you so rapidly and so skillfully that it might as well grow a leg and kick you in the teeth” (page 17). He uses examples of opening lines that are short and very poignant as well as examples that are fairly long paragraphs. All of them have a good bit of action, especially in the verb usage where the choices demonstrate characters or events moving forward very quickly. In this way, the reader is grabbed so quickly that they often continue reading to keep the forward momentum.
Intriguing Them is like providing them with secret, juicy gossip. If presented in the right way, this kind of opening inspires a sense of mystery and encourages the reader to keep reading in order to share new details.
And lastly, Beguiling Them provides them with a sense of confusion which can only be cleared up at the author’s mercy by reading the rest of the story. You distract the reader or provide them with some sort of amusement or deceive them into continuing to read your story. I think that this one would probably be the hardest to classify and also the hardest to pull off successfully. As a reader myself, if I’m too confused by what I’m reading, I may not actually keep reading. Or if I feel like the story isn’t what the author promised back in the beginning, I tend to lose faith. There aren’t that many books out there that I have started and not finished, but I suspect that those I didn’t finish stemmed from starting a novel and having the rest of the story be nothing like the beginning.
The other side of this article is that sometimes, we spend so much time working on the beginning of our stories that we stop working on the rest of the story. Finding the right place to draw the readers in is a difficult balance between introducing them to your world and drawing them in to want more. How much do they need to know right off the bat? What’s the most interesting place to jump in?
This article provides a great foundation for opening lines and might even set the tone for your entire story.