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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 08-11-09, 03:15 PM Thread Starter
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Default The Writer's Circle – Week #10 [Tips on Openings]

The Writer's Circle – Week #10 [Tips on Openings]

Welcome everyone to week #10 of the Writer's Circle. Today I have a very short “article” for you all called, “Quick and dirty tricks for writing an opening that captivates.” Written by Jessica Page Morrell, it is an excerpt from her book, “Thanks, but This Isn't for Us: A (Sort Of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected.” Lets get started shall we!


Quick and dirty tricks for writing an opening that captivates
by: Jessica Page Morrell

USE SPECIFIC, sensory details so that readers land smack dab in another place beyond their ordinary lives.

Don't meander into the story – the first reader at a publishing company or literary agency doesn't have time to wade through pages looking for your hook.

Don't open with a character alone simply thinking or portraying a nameless character wandering alone on a beach or in some vaguely defined space. Instead, give the reader a clearly drawn person to focus on and care about.

A beginning must intrigue, but that doesn't mean it must shock, titillate, or manipulate the reader. Thrillers and suspense stories often have more intense beginnings because readers are expecting mayhem and excitement in the story that follows. But quieter stories might call for a quieter beginning. … Imagine your first words seducing the reader.

Beware of unnecessary details and descriptions, dumping in back story, and introducing too many characters in the opening. Get the story started, but don't bog it down.

Make certain that your opening creates questions that can be resolved only by further reading.

--Jessica Page Morrell
Alright, now what we have here is a very short list of the things you should try and focus on when you are writing your beginnings. As stated above, what readers really want is to be pulled into your story. They want to experience it like they are standing right there. They want to hold their breath when its uncertain your protagonist will survive. Readers subconsciously rely on that “hook” to keep them interested. If there is no hook near your opening, or in your opening, the readers will put your book/story down and move on. If you want your work to be read, that isn't a good thing. However, bear in mind that that here on Heresy, we are very understanding, and realize that there are many of you who are not familiar with applying some of these tactics. However, it takes time and practice to get these things down on paper in a way that works. Just write the story the way you believe it should sound. That is what really matters. We aren't a publishing company that is looking to reject anyone. No, quite the opposite, we encourage the learning experience that is writing and love reading every single story that shows up on Heresy's pages. My suggestion would be to print this post out and keep it near you. It is a short list of things that can be very important when it comes to writing you opening for your story. Perhaps whip out a fluorescent marker and highlight certain things that you think you need to improve on.

OK, just a few questions this week,

1. was this article helpful?

2.Did anything stand out to you as something you will try in the future?

3.Do you agree with the ideas presented in this excerpt?

4.If not, what is it that you disagree with, and why?

Thanks a bunch for stopping by for Week #10 of the Writer's Circle! Cheers to a successful 10 weeks so far! And here's to 10 more !

Write on,

Commissar Ploss

The Founding Fields

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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 08-11-09, 10:51 PM
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The best analogy I can give on this one is from the years I spent as a radio DJ while I lived in Wales. I used to get sent tons of CDs of stuff from record labels, and having to sift through them all to find stuff started taking up more and more time; in the end I found myself listening to the first 30 seconds of the first 3 tracks of a new album when it was someone I'd never heard of and couldn't just automatically be sure it'd be right for my show. If an album hadn't grabbed me by then, it went in the bin. It sounds awful - I have an album out myself, and I'd have been gutted if I thought someone had listened to the first 30 seconds of 3 of my compositions then binned it - but that's what almost all DJs end up doing, or they'd never have time to do anything else. In the same way, the original post is spot on. If you haven't grabbed someone with your first paragraph, they'll go off and do something else.

Some examples from my own work:
1) For the opening of 'Incursion', I went for the time-honoured 'fragment of a recorded item' approach, where the perspective of seeing things at one remove from the narrative angle of a story is in itself the point of interest.

2) In 'Nightwatch', on the other hand, I went for the contrast between a fairly poetic opening few lines and the prosaic earthiness of the opening line of dialogue - "Bollocks!" - as a way of generating interest.

3) Here are the opening lines of an as-yet-untitled 'Hellraiser'-universe story I've been working on, on and off, for a while; I've always found the psychology of the Cenobites and those who fall into their hands fascinating. Here I'm using a contrast between amiable dialogue and present-tense prose describing fairly unpleasant stuff as a means to provoke the mind's eye straight away:

“Why, what a delightful soul you possess, Michael! I look forward to exploring every nook and cranny of it with you.”
The jagged black hooks pull further at his extremities, stretching the skin to breaking point all over the ruin of his body. He does not know whether he should scream or laugh. Perhaps the two are indivisible. Perhaps they have always been one and the same.
“After all the things you have done to get here…so fitting that we should travel the nether regions of who you really are together, don’t you think?”
The Cenobite’s smile is the perfect counterpoint to the seditious whisper of tearing flesh.


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post #3 of 4 (permalink) Old 08-11-09, 11:52 PM Thread Starter
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Very interesting! Thank you for taking the time to craft such a reply! I agree, if the first 30 seconds of a song doesn't grab my attention, its bye bye see you later. Next song. And the same thing goes for books, if its a dull, sluggish opening, what's to say the rest of the book wont be that way. Since you gave your examples of your openings i might as well give some as well.

From At the End of All Things i crafted an opening that put the reader right beside the character, as if you are waking up beside him.

Waking from the daemon-grip of death’s hands is never a welcome instance. Being the only one to do so, is even less.

Gazing through the cracked lenses of his helmet, brother Vicarus viewed the world as a grey haze. A faint rasp emitted from his augmetic voice box as he realized he had just tried to chuckle. Viewing the sky above him from the bottom of an impact crater all too ironically displayed the gravity of the situation. The air was acrid with the smell of burning promethium and the stench of boiled flesh, ...
From my new novel "The Ghost of Iron," of which the Prologue and first chapter are posted here(can be found on my userpage), i used the Prologue as the hook here;

Originally Posted by Commissar Ploss View Post

“Shotgun, this is X-Ray. Four Niner, you are clear for pitch pull, over.”

“Roger X-Ray. Pitch Pull in thirty, over.”

The lifter jets of the drop ship began to whine and screech as if just preparing to take off was too painful an operation.

“Command to X-Ray. Spread to cover position Alpha in support, over.”

At the wave of a hand, Captain Bulous moved his troops into cover positions amongst the rocks around the LZ. Command had spent weeks pouring over orbital scans of the planet's surface for any signs of remaining life. The scans had confirmed their initial hopes. The old rusted wrecks of a campaign gone awry littered the planets surface for hundreds of kilometers. For those savvy enough to retrieve the scrap, it could mean trillions in Imperial credits. Their only concern were clusters of small Ork camps at the old battlefield's southern borders. Captain Bulous had been informed that there were no signs that the Orks inhabited anywhere other than the southern hemisphere. There were no doubts amongst the senior staff that these Orks, Emperor damn them, were well established residents that had, more than likely, been one of the parties responsible for the waste that engulfed the planet. Which, Captain Bulous had been quick to remind everyone, meant the excess amount of unsalvaged wreckage was quite unusual. At least according to the standards upheld by most Ork clans. Orks, especially those whom Bulous had encountered, relied heavily on the technologies of other races for their battle equipment. After major engagements, for example those utilizing vast numbers of armored units, Orks were know to salvage those wrecks which could be fixed and twist them to their fancy. In the amount of time since this battle had been concluded, company tacticians had estimated close to two decades, there should not have been this much scrap still salvageable.

Command had chosen to start in the north. The orbital scans revealed what looked to be a massive ship that had crash landed on the surface. Chart comparisons confirmed it to be a space marine Battle Barge. Captain Bulous could only speculate, but it seemed very possible that the Orks on the planet had originally come from a space hulk colony. He had a feeling that the Orks from the space hulk had caught the space marine command, situated on the Battle Barge, off its guard and fully committed on the ground. There must have been no time to call troops back to the ship to repel a boarding attempt. With its command severed, the rest of their force was left to die. Of course it was highly possible that the two were completely separate. The space hulk Orks and the surface Orks could have been two completely separate clans. Captain Bulous couldn't imagine being caught in between like these marines must have been. With a laugh he shook himself out of his day dream. He assured himself that it wasn't that complex. Men fought and they died. It was as simple as that. No frills, and no heroics. Kill or be killed. If you were not constantly vigilant, you died. If you day dreamed...with a sneer, Captain Bulous decided to return to the task at hand.

Command had assured him that there would be hostile contact this far north of the camps. Still, Captain Bulous did not quite trust the workings of High Command. He never had. He had always suspected them of greed and carelessness. Far too many times had he been told a planet was uninhabited, only to come screaming into a hot LZ, unaware and under equipped. He had lost many good men to the “small errors” of High Command, and wasn't about to lose any more of them.

Captain Bulous kept his men on high alert and gave them permission to engage at the slightest evidence of hostile contact. All the while gazing warily up at the rim of the huge crater that they had been flown into. In the early evening glow of the planet's two setting suns, it was made clear to him that the Battle Barge they were sent to cannibalize, had not originally crashed in this crater. It seemed to have actually crashed somewhere outside the crater, and with the speed and momentum only found in ships of this size, slammed into the ground and cut out a kilometer long swath of earth before stopping. The ship had ended its morbid clash with friction in this huge crater. Sliding down its eastern wall and settling in the bottom.

“X-Ray, this is Shotgun Leader. Pitch pull complete. Moving to coordinate group Theta for rendezvous with the Sister Clara. Give my regards to the dead, Malleus, over.”

“Shotgun, this is X-Ray. Very funny Marco. Get your ass out of here will ya. I'll see you in a month, over.”

“Sure, but when you get back, drinks are on you old buddy.”

Before he could reply, the drop ship tore off into the southern sky.

Captain Malleus Bulous simply laughed. Turning with a grin, he addressed his troops. “Alright boys! This scrap's not gonna salvage itself! Lets strap it, haul it, and kick its ass! Lets show 'em what a real Imperial salvage team can do! First and Second squads! I want those habs set up and operational by sundown tonight! That is, unless you want to sleep with the Orks tonight! Fourth squad! I want two heavy weapon emplacements on the northwestern and southeastern faces of this Emperor-forsaken crater! If you don't want this place to turn into a mass grave, i suggest you do it soon. Oh, and the Emperor protects.”

His men replied with a deafening cheer. Captain Malleus Bulous smiled. He knew his men were the best. They were trained on Mars itself by the techmarines of the Adeptus Mechanicus in salvage and recovery. He had no doubts this was going to be a short trip. With enough habs for him and his men, and provisions enough to spend a month planet-side, he had no reservations for getting this mission underway. It would take his men two full days to complete their preparations anyways.

“Command, this is X-Ray. Do you read, over.”

“Go ahead X-Ray, make your declaration, over.”

“Let it be known, that in service to the God Emperor of mankind, on the 56th day 782.M41, salvage and recovery operations in the northern sector are go. The Emperor protects, over.”

“The Emperor protects.”
And then that continues on to the first chapter, which can also be found on my userpage. Just follow the link in my sig called "The Lair of the FAN FICTION KING."

And now, i have been working on back story for the Iron Diamonds and subsequently for Brother Vicarus.

Below is a piece that i have been working on for a while now. It is heretofore UNPUBLISHED 'cause its not done. lol Just to let everyone know it might be available soon, it might not be. who knows. Let me know what you think of it.

Anyways, here i use a mysterious beginning style that grabs the readers interest by slowly revealing the details of who i am talking about. However, i do it smoothly, and not bits here and there. take a look.

The woods were quiet. Eerie beams of light shone through the humid canopy in sections to spotlight the forest floor below. Things were missing. Things that made the silence lay upon the wood like a blanket, covering everything. The native fauna had either gone silent or completely disappeared, for there were no discernible signs that they were there. There was no breeze to be felt. The air was stagnant and warm, as if afraid to move.

Hidden amongst the thorns and bracken, a pair of eyes scan the forest 180 degrees. Other than the vegetation, his helmet display shows no signs of life. He knows to be wary. For that was how he was trained. He is a merchant of death. His hands and arms sheathed in gauntlets of black adamantium, his chest and legs cased in ceremite plates of the same. His helmet, also black and crested with golden laurels, bears a red stripe down the middle from back to front. In his left hand he holds a weapon of divine power. A holy weapon that aids him in his judgment of other. From its aperture spews bolts of incandescent plasma. Encasing his right, humming quietly, is a most sacred artefact. Passed down over three hundred years and witness to one thousand campaigns, it is a weapon of awesome power. Only given to those deemed worthy, it is a black iron fist four times the size of his hand and bares four claws. Each crackling with blue bolts of energy. Equally capable of flenzing flesh from bone as gashing a battle tank like a knife slicing the air, it has done both many times. It is 'the hand that slew one thousand Orks.' To the one who bares it, it is the right hand of Angarius, his dead homeland. It bares the souls of all those dead and gone. Many of those his brothers. For he is Brother-Sergent Lucian Vicarus, and he is a Space Marine. His shoulder plates bare the symbol of his chapter. It is a grey diamond, plain and glorious. He is a soldier of the Iron Diamond.
These are just some examples of the types of openings that i use in my writing. I'm trying new things all the time, but each time i do, i make sure that it grabs the readers attention somehow. That is always necessary. remember that.

write on,

Commissar Ploss

The Founding Fields

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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 08-12-09, 01:20 AM
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Jessica Page Morrell hits the nail on the head when she says, "A beginning must intrigue, but that doesn't mean it must shock, titillate, or manipulate the reader."

Too often people try to shock their reader when a quieter, more thought provoking opening might be more appropriate. Granted, the 40k universe is quite shocking which makes such openings more then acceptable, it is still worth remembering that seduction is almost always a better way to ensnare a reader (especially considering the growing immunity to shock tactics due to an over-saturation in the media).

I prefer openings that get the reader asking a question, pulling them in and making them engage so it is harder to drop the story. No less important, as Jessica Page Morrell pointed out, is giving the reader a clear understanding of where the events are taking place so that they have a comfortable frame of reference. When that frame is lacking or doesn't comfortably fit, the reader tends to be distracted and is more likely to put the story down.

Looking forward to reading and learning with you.
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