Dear Janis, thanks for having me on your blog today! I’d like to talk about book openings.
Interviewers always ask an author, “How do you write the perfect opening sentence?”
You don’t. If you thought that first sentence had to be perfect, you’d never write the second sentence, or the third. You sit down and start writing and do the best you can.
Often, after you’ve gotten well into the book, you look back and realize the first paragraph, or first page, or first chapter are backstory and unnecessary. You might sprinkle it in later, but you don’t need to start with it.
Sometimes, it takes a friend or critique partner to point to the third page and say, “This is where your story starts, right here.”
Many experts teach that you should start with dialogue, or action. That’s fine, if it’s right for your story or your voice. Conventional wisdom says not to start with a dream, but I’m sure someone has done it successfully somewhere.
I’ve seen lists of famous first lines and some are excellent, but some have left me cold. No two people can agree on constitutes the “best.”
Another so called “rule” is not to start with someone waking up or answering the phone.
In The Witch on Twisted Oak, I wrote the first scene and realized I had done just that. But I liked the scene and didn’t want to get rid of it. Okay, I decided, so what if I made that the second scene and had the first scene the discovery of the body?
Then I was left with the problem of who would make the discovery?
My choice was a bit unconventional and not totally within the accepted norm, but read this excerpt and let me know; do you think I made the right decision?
The full moon called her name with increasing urgency, but she didn’t move until the sounds of sleep-laden breathing filled the house. She padded silently across threadbare carpet. When she reached the kitchen, her steps echoed—click, click, click—against worn linoleum and she paused, but the rhythm of the house didn’t change.
She pushed through the small opening and the flap closed behind her with a soft swish.
Smells assaulted her from every direction and she quivered with excitement. Which way to go first?
The boxer next door had peed against the big pine tree, again, and she released a few drops of her own to let him know she’d been by. The breeze wafted a new scent her direction and she stopped in mid-stream.
What was that?
Light spilled from the small building behind the house where the old people lived. Scents poured out that were both foreign and familiar. Smells weren’t good or bad to her, only something to be investigated, but that house reeked of sickness and she usually avoided it on her nightly romps.
Inside the building was a playground filled with sights and smells and objects she’d never encountered before.
She danced in circles and jumped from one piece of furniture to another with abandon. She rolled and squirmed and wallowed in every new scent. And they were all new and different and intriguing.
An object caught her eye and she batted it with her paw. It skittered a few feet and stopped. She tried again, but it refused to roll any distance. Maybe if she tossed it.
The taste was as new and fascinating as the smell. She shook her head and it flew in the air, landing with a solid thunk.
This was fun, but how much more exciting if she had someone to play with. The boy was always grumpy since he started changing into a man.
The girl. She’d play any time of night or day.
She flew across the street and through her opening, toenails first clacking on the linoleum, then falling silent on the carpet. The door to the girl’s room was closed, but she nudged it open, then bounded onto the bed, dropping her treasure at the girl’s side and nuzzling her face. The girl might not be willing to play, but was always ready to cuddle.
When the first scream pierced the night air, she leapt to the floor and cowered under the bed.
If you enjoyed this excerpt, you can find The Witch on Twisted Oak on Amazon at: http://tinyurl.com/lt4hopg
Check out my website at www.SusanCMuller.com
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