Category Archives: Beginnings

Who Hooked You And How?

466523_jamaican_fisher_manLast week we looked at the opening paragraphs of ten novels to see which hooked readers most often. I find these exercise informative. What was it that grabbed readers’ attention and why?

The poll results are in. Only one vote separated our top two entries.

In the top slot was Choice B
I never believed in ghosts.

Until I saw one, face to face, when I was twelve.

It was the middle of the summer, one of those nights when the wind scratched tree branches against my window and the Pacific roared so loud I thought it was going to sweep my away. Something startled me awake, some shifting of our house, beam against beam, old wood crying out in the damp sea breeze.

In second place was Choice C:
Tarnished snow sifted through the air, clinging to Ela Roch’s skin the instant she stepped outside. Warm snow.

Impossible.

She rubbed at the flakes on her bare forearm and watched them smear across her brown flesh like menacing shadows. Ashes. What was burning?

Unnerved, Ela scanned the plain mud-plastered stone houses honeycombed around the wide public square. Houses built one atop another within a vast, irregular, protective curtain wall, sheltering the city of Parne.

And now the big reveal: who are these authors and from what books did these openings come?

Choice A Storm by Evan Angler
Choice B Fathom by Merrie Destefano
Choice C Prophet by R. J. Larson
Choice D Cracks in the Ice by Deanna Klingel
Choice E Crosswind by Steve Rzasa
Choice F Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard
Choice G The Constant Tower by Carole McDonnell
Choice H Soul’s Gate by James Rubart
Choice I The New Recruit by Jill Williamson
Choice J Beckon by Tom Pawlik

Here are my general observations about openings that hook:

The ones that attracted the most readers contained surprise or the unexpected–warm snow, seeing a ghost.

They also created tension. The middle of a summer night, wind scratching tree branches against the window, and the protagonist starts awake. The tension is palatable. Perhaps less so, but still present is the tension created by the smeared ash “like menacing shadows.”

The openings that hook also created a question, whether spoken or unspoken. Why would a ghost visit a twelve-year-old? What was burning?

Another element that these openings share is evocative language. In Fathom: “… the Pacific roared so loud I thought it was going to sweep my away.” And “some shifting of our house, beam against beam, old wood crying out in the damp sea breeze.”

In Prophet: “Tarnished snow” and “mud-plastered stone houses honeycombed around the wide public square.”

The final element I notice in the top attention-getting entries is that they connect the reader with a character. Fathom does this in part because of the first person point of view. The reader is right with the character from the beginning, feeling what she feels, experiencing the same startling event she experienced.

Prophet creates a connection with the character through description and her actions. She’s observant, curious, unnerved, concerned. Her questioning draws the reader in to question with her.

I think it’s fair to say that the other openings shared some of these same elements–but perhaps not all. They may have included things these top two did not.

In truth, there is no sure-fire formula for an intriguing opening that will hook readers, but I don’t think you can go wrong if you surprise your audience, create tension and questions with evocative language while introducing them to an interesting character.

Advertisements

11 Comments

Filed under Beginnings

Are You Hooked?

1085595_fish_bait_1Some years ago, I conducted a poll over at A Christian Worldview of Fiction to see what readers liked about the openings of several recently published books. It was a fun way of seeing what people are looking for in their openings.

Writers who have gone to conferences or read instruction books know the first few paragraphs create the all important “hook” to capture readers’ interest. Consequently, spending a little time reading and reacting to a variety of openings can be instructive. So I thought it was time to re-create that poll with a different set of books.

Without giving you book titles, genres, or authors, I’ll post the openings of a few books released either this year or last and let you vote on the ones that captured your interest. I’ll make it multiple choice so that you can choose more than one answer if several (or all) hook you. Then next week I’ll reveal the titles and authors.

The real help, however, will be from those who comment, telling why one and not another opening grabbed their attention.

So here we are, the first 50-75 words, in no special order:

Choice A – The door to the house was closed and locked and guarded by two men wearing uniforms unlike any Connor had ever seen. They were quiet. They held rifles and wore helmets that shadowed their faces. They stared out and didn’t move.

Connor watched from the yard next door, dark under the curtain of a hot September night. The town around him was still, suspended in the thick, stifling air, and he crept through it silently.

Choice B – I never believed in ghosts.

Until I saw one, face to face, when I was twelve.

It was the middle of the summer, one of those nights when the wind scratched tree branches against my window and the Pacific roared so loud I thought it was going to sweep my away. Something startled me awake, some shifting of our house, beam against beam, old wood crying out in the damp sea breeze.

Choice C – Tarnished snow sifted through the air, clinging to Ela Roch’s skin the instant she stepped outside. Warm snow.

Impossible.

She rubbed at the flakes on her bare forearm and watched them smear across her brown flesh like menacing shadows. Ashes. What was burning?

Unnerved, Ela scanned the plain mud-plastered stone houses honeycombed around the wide public square. Houses built one atop another within a vast, irregular, protective curtain wall, sheltering the city of Parne.

Choice D Dear Diary,

All I want is to be in charge of my own life and ice skate. Is that so much to ask? I mean I am fourteen. I think I can be in charge of something. It just isn’t fair. All I wan to do is ice skate. Sometimes things happen that have nothing to do with me, but they change things in my life. I don’t think that’s fair.

Choice E – Troy could finally relax.

His Maledore Vireo biplane dipped just under the clouds. It was still dark this early in the morning. The sky was a deep blue, and his only illumination was that given by the moon. It was plenty, though, to shed light on his gauges and instruments. The flash steam engine of his biplane was loud enough to reassure him it was properly working.

Choice F – The pine trees mocked his youth, their thin, green fingers fretting in the wind. If he didn’t move fast, they would betray him—he just knew it—and the deer would get away. . . again. Arvel wiped his brow, stole across an expanse of dead pine needles, and crouched behind a bush strangled by bindweek and its poisonous red berries.

Holding his breath, he nocked an arrow.

Three deer chewed and sniffed.

Choice G – Now my prince, in my former rendition, I spoke of Ephan’s deeds. Then you asked me to tell the tale again, and this time to tell you Psal’s story. I will play my part. But you must play your part as well. For you it is given the task of forgetting all you have heard of the previous tale and to keep your heart and mind on Psal. Can you do this?

Choice H – Reece Roth Spun at the sound–a dull scrape like log on log. But there was nothing behind him except a small pile of driftwood worn white by years of ocean rain and wind. A shadow flitted in the corner of his eye, but as he turned farther to his left, the darkness vanished.

His heart pumped faster as he took another quarter turn to complete the circle.

Choice I – What can I say? I’m a moron.

I knew better than to play ball in King Coat’s territory. Maybe I was looking for a fight, wanting to blow off steam after my “talk” with Principal McKaffey.

But there we were, me and three guys from the public school, playing two on two on the court in Alameda Park. It was around 2:20. The elementary schools hadn’t let out yet.

Choice J – The last time he saw his father alive, Jackson David Kendrick was only nine years old.

The gray light of dawn was seeping in between his bedroom curtains when Jack woke to find him standing in the doorway. Dr. David Kendrick was a willowy, spectacled anthropologist at the University of Chicago.

By the way, if you think you know who the author is, feel free to leave a comment and give us your guess. However, if you’ve read the book and actually KNOW who the author is, please limit your comment to a hint but don’t spoil the chance others have of guessing.

Remember, vote for all the beginnings that hooked you. The poll will remain open for a week.

13 Comments

Filed under Beginnings

Hooks Versus Openings

Recently the Writer’s Digest published an article that compiled the views of writing professionals on opposing sides of certain writing “rules” issues. One of the topics dealt with the novel opening, or hook.

How exactly should a novel begin? Should the author rope you in with intrigue and suspense, then never let you go? (The hook).

This is the view author and writing instructor Jerry B. Jenkins took:

I recently critiqued a beginner’s manuscript that began, “I’m sure we’ve all heard the old adage …” Well, if it’s an adage, it’s old, and if it’s an old adage, yes, we’ve all heard it. So why in the world would you want to start your novel with that?

Most experts advise starting with or quickly getting to an “inciting incident,” or at least something that implies that a main character’s status quo has been interrupted.

You tell me. Would you be more gripped by an old adage, or by something like, “When he kissed her goodbye and said he’d see her at dinner, Elizabeth believed only Ben’s goodbye”?

It’s not gunfire, not murder, not mayhem. But I’m betting you want to know what’s going on and will stick with me until you find out.

The opposing view (the opening) was given by writing professional Steve Almond:

The single most common problem I see in student manuscripts is that they are incredibly confusing. They are incredibly confusing because student authors often refuse to orient the reader by providing basic dramatic circumstances, such as where we are, and what’s happening, and to whom. Instead, we’re plunged into a kind of ectoplasm of vivid descriptions and incisive observations. I refer to this style of writing as hysterical lyricism.

The central reason student writers succumb to this is because they’ve been told over and over that they have to “hook readers on Page 1.” They assume that the best way to do this is to dispense with all the “boring background” and get us right to the fancy prose.

Well, what’s an unpublished writer to do (or even a published one seeking to improve)? These two experienced, qualified, successful published writers, who teach the craft, do not agree.

Or … is it that they are emphasizing different things about how a novel should begin? I doubt very much if Mr. Jenkins is advocating confusion:

    Never mind if readers understand what’s happening, just get your character in danger; create suspense and readers will be with you.

No, I don’t think so.

At the same time, I don’t think Mr. Almond is advocating an opening that is void of tension:

    The facts, that’s what readers need. Tell them who is in the scene, where this takes place, how they’re all dressed, and everyone’s hair and eye color.

Uh, that’s unlikely, too.

In actuality, though they seem to be saying contradictory things, they are both right. In the list I posted last week of the things readers at Spec Faith did not like in the brief novel openings they examined, you’ll find “confusing” and “no action”; “disjointed” and “no urgency (importance).”

On the flip side, in stating what they did like in an opening, these readers mentioned “clear” (more than once) but also “created curiosity,” “tension,” and “intrigue.”

Quite obviously, the novel openings that work the best do both — they orient readers and they engage them from the start. How is this possible?

I’ll admit, I’m still learning this skill. I know it when I see it, but it’s hard to spell out. I will say this. One element should not be sacrificed for the other. In other words, a writer shouldn’t seek clarity to the point of omitting intrigue. Neither should a writer swing for the opening-hook fences by trying to be so clever that readers can’t figure out what in the world (or out of it) is happening.

I’ll add this. A few novels end up with the kinds of opening lines that are truly memorable, but a lot of great ones that are on many people’s favorite lists have much quieter beginnings. Not boring, though. Just not of the quotable variety.

Perhaps too many writers, in an effort to find the quotable, are forgetting to create a memorable character and scene. After all, readers also remarked that they liked an opening that suggested a larger world or created an interesting voice.

In short, hooks work only if they open a story readers care about, and openings work only if they hook the reader into the story.

1 Comment

Filed under Beginnings

Hooks Readers Can’t Resist


This week at the team blog I contribute to, Speculative Faith, we took a look at the first one hundred words of five unpublished manuscripts by some anonymous volunteers, with one question in mind: would you keep reading? Over fifty percent of the Spec Faith visitors who voted in the poll identified the second opening as one that would keep them reading. Over fifty percent! That means that over fifty percent of those who might pick up the book in a bookstore or read the excerpt an online would be willing to consider buying it. They’d have to if they wanted to read more, wouldn’t they?

Technically, no. They could stand there in the bookstore or take it to a comfy chair and read the rest of the chapter or they could devour the entire excerpt available on the Internet, so obviously openings aren’t going to guarantee sales. They will, however, guarantee non-sales. If readers put the book back on the shelf or click away from the excerpt after reading the first page, there’s not going to be a sale, not that day, at least.

For aspiring writers, the opening holds the same kind of importance. This is the introduction a potential agent will have to your writing. Like any other first contact, and especially a business contact, it’s important to present a favorable first impression. So what works and what doesn’t when writing a novel opening?

First, like any other writing “rules,” some successful authors will ignore these principles about openings. The real rule of writing is, does it work? Of course you, the author, may think it does, but all the readers who look at your work say it doesn’t — which is why an exercise like the one at Speculative Faith is so helpful. Those who commented took time to explain why they did or didn’t think an opening was working.

Here are some of the top reasons why an opening didn’t work:

      – confusing
      – disjointed
      – unnecessary words
      – no identification with the character
      – too much repetition
      – backstory interrupts the action
      – no urgency (importance)
      – no focus
      – unlikeable character
      – no action

There are undoubtedly others I missed, but these are the main points that were repeated in a variety of ways. On the other hand, here’s why the commenters wanted to keep reading certain excerpts:

      – clear, tight writing
      – irony (odd contrast)
      – intrigue
      – created curiosity
      – a need to know (what happens next?)
      – suggestion of a larger world
      – humor
      – originality
      – promise of conflict
      – tension
      – interesting voice
      – clear

I think these two lists give writers a good picture of what readers like in an opening. In fellow Spec Faith contributor Fred Warren’s follow-up post, “Give ‘Em The Hook,” he focused on three particular opening techniques: creating mystery, immersing the reader in the story, and orienting him to a place.

Other writing instructors stress the importance of introducing the reader to an engaging character. The idea is, if readers care about the character, they will follow him to the ends of the earth, even if he does reprehensible things they don’t want him to do.

I remember having that reaction to Frodo Baggins in The Return of the King, book three of J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. When Frodo accepted Gollum as their guide into Mordor, I knew it was a mistake. I wanted him to choose more wisely. In fact, I wasn’t sure if he shouldn’t turn around and take the ring to Gondor after all. None of the choices seemed good, but following Gollum seemed like suicide. But I kept reading. His questionable decision (in my view) didn’t dissuade me from reading on because I cared for Frodo and wanted to know what would come of his choice.

Of course, the event I’m referring to didn’t occur in the opening of the book, but that serves to underline the fact that making a reader care as early as possible will keep him reading … up to a point. If the promise of the opening fails, and fails again and again, it’s possible for a hooked reader to squirm off the line! 😉

1 Comment

Filed under Beginnings

Plot Weaving – Where To Start


Novelists report common problems. One has to do with “sagging middles” — stories that dead end or lose steam somewhere in the middle. A second is not knowing where to start.

In actuality, the two issues might be related. Story consultant and critic of the popular three-act story structure, John Truby, in his book The Anatomy of Story says this about crafting a plot:

Because plot involves the intricate weaving of characters and actions over the course of the entire, story, it is inherently complex. It must be extremely detailed yet also hang together as a whole. Often the failure of a single plot event can bring the entire story down (p. 258).

It’s fair to say, then, that a bad beginning can affect a story’s middle. That’s not to conclude that a good beginning will automatically eliminate the possibility of a slow or stalled middle, but I’ll explore causes apart from the beginning another day.

I’ve suggested in earlier articles — “How to Start A Novel”, “The First Five Pages”, and “What Goes Into A Plot” that the writer should know his protagonist and his main opponent. He should know his theme and have the setting firmly in mind. But that still begs the question — where to begin the plot?

To figure out the answer to that question, it’s important to know where the story will end up. Mr. Truby says it like this: “An organic plot shows the actions that lead to the hero’s character change or [that] explain why the change is impossible” (p.259).

He then makes, what I think to be a central observation about good plotting: the events of the plot need to be “causally connected.” In other words, one event needs to cause the next event, and in the end the character needs to be changed (or the reason he isn’t clarified). To accomplish both of these goals simultaneously, the writer must weave the story events together in such a way that they appear to grow naturally, one from the other.

It’s possible to do this as an outliner who thinks through the events ahead of time, or as a seat-of-the-pants writer who creates scenes, then pieces them together and fills in gaps later on.

But that still doesn’t answer the “where to start” question. Think of a story as the reason why — the reason why Gillian is blind, the reason why Tad loves soccer, the reason why the sky is blue, or any of a countess number of scenarios. Each of these names the outcome. The story will detail the events that brought about the outcome. The start, then, is the first of those events — the trigger, if you will, or what most writing instructors refer to as the inciting incident.

As a reminder, I suggested in “The First Five Pages” that the opening scene should be a bridge between the story and the back story, so a novel generally doesn’t start with the inciting incident. In reality, however, the inciting incident is the beginning of the plot.

Here’s what Mr. Truby says about the inciting incident: “This is an event from the outside that causes the hero to come up with a goal and take action” (p. 278).

From that point on, the events will have a cause-effect connection.

Fairy tales often used a nice prompt to alert the reader to the inciting incident. After setting the stage, a paragraph would inevitable begin, One day … The implication is that on that day something new and different will happen — the inciting incident, the first step in a series of steps leading to ultimate change.

And that, my friends, is where a plot should start.

Examples
From “The Monkey and the Crocodile”

Once there lived a monkey in a jamun tree by a river. The monkey was alone – he had no friends, no family, but he was happy and content. The jamun tree gave him plenty of sweet fruit to eat, and shade from the sun and shelter from the rain.

One day a crocodile came swimming up the river and climbed on to the bank to rest under the monkey’s tree …

From “Little Red Riding Hood”

Long, long time ago, in a little village at the edge of a forest, there lived a little girl with her mother and her father. This little girl was the sweetest, kindest child there ever was. She was always dressed in a pretty red cloak and hood that her mother had made for her, so that everyone began calling her Little Red Riding Hood.

One day Little Red Riding Hood’s mother called her and said, ‘Daughter, your grandmother is very ill. Please take her this pot of butter and some custard that I have made.’

7 Comments

Filed under Beginnings, Plot

What Goes Into A Plot

A recent article in Writer’s Digest on writing short stories included a succinct explanation about story plots:

    Plots, Aristotle told us, have beginnings, middles and ends, and they proceed through a series of reversals and recognitions, a reversal being a shift in a situation to its opposite, and a recognition being a change from ignorance to awareness. The basic plot of every story — regardless of length or complexity — is: A central character wants something intensely, goes after it despite opposition and, as a result of a struggle, comes to either win or lose.

    – “Letting Plot Guide Your Narrative” by John Dufresne

In a pea pod, there are the basics of a plot and the basis of an outline.

Because I believe it is important to craft our theme with the same skill and attention I give to the other fiction elements, I’ll add that I think it’s necessary to know what it is I want to say before I begin work on my plot.

Let’s say I want to write a book that speaks to God’s faithfulness and Man’s need to trust Him. With that direction in mind, I can craft a character who has an intense want in line with this direction.

Because I have a direction, however, I am not cornered into creating a stock character. I have choices. Do I want my character to be a person who has it all, only to lose it, a la Job? Or perhaps I should fashion a character who has it all except for the one thing he thinks will make his life work. Another approach might be to start with a character at rock bottom who is in survival mode.

There are any number of characters with differing situations who can intensely want something only to discover that their real need is to trust God.

My first major plotting decision, then, is to determine my theme, and my second is to create a character.

I can’t emphasis enough how important it is to create a rounded, believable character, not simply affix a name to a particular gendered individual of a certain age with specified hair and eye color. The more a writer can know about his character, the easier plotting is.

For example, suppose your character happens upon a person in the park lying next to the bicycle path, bleeding, not moving. What does your character do?

Your answer as the writer should depend on what kind of a person you are creating. If your character is a take-charge individual, her first actions will be very different than if she is timid and quiet. Does your character have a medical background or does the sight of blood make her squeamish? Was your character helped by a stranger at some point in her life or was she a rape victim? These and a dozen different personality issues, background experiences, and relational influences will affect what your character will choose to do first.

Once you know your character as well as you can, it’s time to put him into a setting. Yes, before your plotting can get started, you need to know where your character is. Of course, setting also must serve your theme and the character you have created.

If he is poor and desperate, don’t assume that he needs to be on skid row. What if he’s poor, desperate, and living in Beverly Hills? How did he get there and why does he want to stay? What will it take? What does it cost him if he fails and has to leave? Where will he go?

Questions, questions, questions. Ask yourself as many questions as you can imagine. When some answer intrigues you, follow that line of thought and ask another series of questions, especially if it’s concerned with why.

Within those questions you just may have found your beginning.

1 Comment

Filed under Beginnings, Characters, Plot, Story

The First Five Pages

Some time ago, I addressed the subject of starting a novel in a post by the extraordinarily original title “How To Start A Novel.” 😉 In that piece, I made the case for beginning a story with an engaging character who wants something and with a clearly defined antagonist who will be the chief cause of things that thwart the character from reaching his desired end.

Scarlet wants Ashley, who becomes engaged to Melanie (Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell). Captain Ahab wants revenge on the whale that took his leg, but Moby Dick continues to elude him (Moby Dick by Herman Melville). Grady wants to be loved, but Floyd, his father figure, ignores him, uses him, and betrays him (The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers).

With those key components, a story is about to happen. But how to start?

I’ve wrestled with this topic in my own writing. One piece of advice I embraced is that the opening of a novel should be the bridge between the story and the backstory.

To clarify: backstory is what happened before the point in time when this story starts — often called the inciting incident. But before the story can actually start, readers need some sort of introduction to the main character. Otherwise, whatever starts the story will lose importance because readers don’t care about the character.

The first five pages (or so) give the reader a look at what life was like before the inciting incident disrupts the story world. At the same time, the opening should give some picture of what the character wants.

Of course, the character should have both internal and external desires that are story-long. However, the author doesn’t have to rush those forward. Rather, the character’s opening-scene want may be a faint echo of what will become the deeper need.

The first five pages should also anchor the reader in the story in several ways. One is by creating a mood — humorous, stoic, lighthearted, dramatic, ironic, angst-filled, and so on.

Setting may contribute to mood and is another element that anchors the story. Even though settings change as characters move about, readers need to “see” where they are. Especially at the beginning of a novel, it is critical that readers are not confused.

In contrast, an author wants readers to be curious which gives them ample reason to continue reading beyond the first five pages. Curiosity and confusion have nothing to do with each other except that some writers mix up the two.

To create curiosity, a writer poses a question, inviting the reader to turn the page and find the answer. In the process of discovery, however, a new question will present itself, one with added weight, and the process continues.

On the other hand, if readers don’t understand who the players are or what is happening, they most likely won’t care to search for the answers to any questions that might suggest themselves. Their confusion stifles their curiosity.

Besides creating mood, providing setting, and fanning curiosity in the first five pages, the author should establish expectations, accomplished by his choice of point of view (first person, omniscient third person, close third person) and verb tense, by his creation of style (sentence structure, description patterns, the amount of narrative versus scenes, and so forth) and voice (the author and/or character’s personality infused into the story by word choice and “speech” patterns).

If you’re thinking that’s a lot of responsibility for the first few pages of a novel to bear, you’re absolutely right. Readers form opinions from those opening pages. They make decision — do I like this character? do I want to read more? do I care what happens next? should I buy this book?

Experienced writers have learned to put considerable effort into getting opening scene right. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be right on the first draft, or there might not a novel at all. 😀

For further study, The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman is helpful for beginning writers.

3 Comments

Filed under Beginnings, Characters, Plot, Story

How To Start A Novel

Over the past few years, I’ve discovered some excellent writers whose novels, from my perspective, would be stronger if the story structure were stronger.

Many writers may believe that their story hangs on the plot sequence. Hence they work hard to develop an opening scene of intrigue or danger that will draw readers in. Certainly the opening to a novel is important, but for readers to care about the intrigue or danger, they must care about the characters involved.

For example, I watched part of a TV show the other night that opened with an off-duty policeman chasing a man who apparently had been in the midst of committing a crime. During the chase, the perpetrator was hit by a car and died.

Did this scene increase my interest? Draw me into the story? Somewhat. Not because of the virtually unknown man who died but because of the ramifications it held for the police officer, one of the show’s stars.

So how should a novelist begin a story? Above all else, he should conceive of a character that has something she wants or needs. This character’s longing must become striving.

A good story does not happen to a character. The character initiates events in an attempt to satisfy the want or need that drives him.

Often this driving desire does not surface immediately, but the writer must know what this character desire is. The opening scene may present a more transient, less significant want or need, then as the story unfolds the character’s outer and inner struggles will crystallize the deeper desire.

Not only must the writer begin with a character in want, he must also conceive of an antagonist who will serve as a foil. This character is not necessarily an opponent. He might be a business partner who holds a different vision from the protagonist or a homeless man who initiates guilty feelings every time he pushes his cart down the street.

The point is, when beginning a story, knowing who will be the chief character to throw up roadblocks, difficulties, questions, doubts, is just as important as knowing what the main character wants. These two are the twin cornerstones of story structure.

4 Comments

Filed under Beginnings, Characters, Plot, Story

Story Beginnings – A Look at The Enclave by Karen Hancock

The CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Karen Hancock’s latest release, a science fiction/suspense entitled The Enclave. As I’ve visited other blogs and read reviews, I’ve seen a couple things that stand out to me as a writer, but for now I want to focus on the beginning of the story.

A number of people thought the novel started slowly, but some, like me, were hooked from the beginning. What is it about a book that pulls some readers in right away while leaving others out in the cold? Here are the opening lines of The Enclave:

    Cameron Reinhardt is an idiot!
    Yes, he had a PhD from Stanford. Yes, he was widely acknowledged as a brilliant geneticist. Yes, Director Swain called him the field’s brightest rising star, the Institute’s greatest asset, and a fabulous hiring coup. But this wasn’t the first time Lacey McHenry wondered how the man managed to get up in the morning and make it to his office fully clothed.

As I examine these lines several things draw me in.

1) A strong opinion. Granted, I don’t know the characters yet, so I don’t know if the point of view character is right and this geneticist is an idiot, or not. But it creates a question in my mind. Is he an idiot?

2) Conflict. The POV character is obviously at odds with the geneticist, but also with Director Swain, and perhaps the entire institute. While all these others think Reinhardt is wonderful, she alone thinks he’s an idiot.

3) The question of an internal struggle. What could motivate someone to go against a leader and an institution? One possibility is that the POV character is truthful and sees things others do not see. Another possibility is professional jealousy. If the latter, then the seeds of an internal struggle have been sown.

For me, these three elements were enough to capture my attention, and the rest of the page and chapter held it firmly.

1 Comment

Filed under Beginnings, Story