Psst!Did you know that my publisher posted Chapter 1 of BLUE-BLOODED VAMP? Go ahead and read it because today’s Craft Thursday post is all about story openings. Go on, we’ll wait for you.
Here’s some reading music for you.
First, let’s get this out of the way. The way I write openings isn’t necessarily the way you should write them. Genre conventions, author voice and all sorts of other issues dictate what kind of opening a book should have. However, in general most genre fiction books are all about the fast hook.
In media res is a phrase often bandied about by us writer types. It means, “in the middle of things.” Thus, you throw your reader into the story without a lot of context. The unanswered questions and lack of reference points often works to hook them into the story so they can’t help but find out what’s going on.
You’ll notice, of course, that unlike most of the other Sabina Kane novels, our heroine doesn’t actually fight anyone in these two opening scenes. It was a conscious decision based on the fact that a) Sabina has grown as a character over the course of the series and b) she’s recovering from some pretty heavy emotional issues after the end of SILVER-TONGUED DEVIL and I needed the opening to reflect that.
A lot of writers think that to hook a reader you have to have explosions and sirens and all sorts of literary pyrotechnics. I, myself, have been guilty of this thinking. Witness the first scenes of THE MAGE IN BLACK, which featured a kung fu battle in the middle of a mini-mart that culminated in a couple of flambeed vampires, a shotgun battle and an explosion. (BTW that’s still one of my favorite scenes ever).
Over time, though, I’ve realized that you don’t need all that noise to craft a great opening. Violence for violence sake can be fun as hell to write, but without some really excellent tension and character development it’s pretty empty reading. So when I started writing the opening of this book, I focused on creating the promise of action.
The promise of action is a technique where you present an inciting incident that tells the readers, “Look, there’s some really exciting shit coming. You might want to stick around.” Basically, what I’m saying to you, is you have to promise (AND DELIVER) exciting conflicts–both internal and external–for your characters to overcome.
In the first scene of BBV, we have a lot of promise. First, we know that Sabina’s determined to find the man who killed her sister, even, as she says, if it means putting a gun to her friend’s head to get his cooperation. Second, we know that this promise she made to Asclepius is going to bite her in the ass–a major complication in an already complex mission. Third, there is the promise of internal conflict for Sabina, i.e. she’s going to have to learn some hard lessons along the way, including maybe that revenge isn’t the answer.
Mind you, the promise of action doesn’t mean you don’t still need actual action. Sabina isn’t sitting around talking about everything she wants to do. The conflicts are revealed by showing her interact with the people in her world and react to things they say and do.
A quick note on exposition here. BBV is the fifth (and final) book in a series. That means that I had to use some exposition in the first chapter in order to bring readers up to speed on the major facts they needed to know going into this story. Namely, that her sister is dead and that Sabina is set on revenge. There are also a couple of mentions of other characters, like Giguhl, because long-time readers of the series would have been distracted wonder where Sabina’s sidekick was if I hadn’t mentioned him.
For you, however, especially if you’re writing the first book of a series, you need to use as little exposition as possible in your first chapter. The goal is to hit the ground running, keep the reader guessing and promise some really cool shit.