The Power Of A Great Opening

Lips, lips pressing down on hers. Kate’s eyes fluttered open and she found herself looking into soft, brown eyes that were liquid pools of concern. Kind eyes. Without thinking her arms went up around his and she found herself responding to him. Applause burst out from the bystanders around her.

Opening from: Amsden, Pat. “Lost In Vegas.” Lost in Vegas Cover

Hopefully that makes you want to read further. In a short presentation on writing best selling novels earlier this year, Phyllis Smallman said “great writers are great readers.” We all nodded sagely. Then she clarified. You not only have to love reading but you have to read to learn how others write. Oh.

She suggested going to the nearest library and reading the first paragraph from best selling novels. I’d like to think the above example from Lost In Vegas works. It has at various times made it into the top 100 books on Amazon. Below you’ll see an opening line from one of Phyllis Smallman’s books. It definitely draws me in.

Do you think you can catch crazy? In Dutch’s, where I mix martinis and pull drafts, some nights a madness swirls through the air, like a virus infecting everyone.

Opening from: Smallman, Phyllis. “Jack Daniels And Tea.”

Then start to think about how books you love are constructed. Chances are none start with a page on botany. Chances are you’ve met at least one of the main characters in the first page and there’s been an inciting incident within the first thirty. Whether it’s romance or mystery there’s probably a giant problem in the way that makes a neat resolution impossible and makes you wonder “how on earth will they solve that?”

That’s what makes you keep reading. Maybe the botanist is trying to save a plant in the middle of a proposed logging site. Conflict! The life blood of books everywhere. If the botanist is gorgeous and the logger a testosterone soaked version of man candy even better. Switch it up and make the botanist a male version of sex on a stick and the logger a pissed off blue eyed blonde who’d look more at home in a women’s magazine than at the job site decked out in steel toed boots. Excellent!

Depending on size you may have a sub plot or two. Maybe three. They should tie into the main story line, adding depth to the story and characters.

Then think about the ending. You want to end with a bang, not a whimper. There should be resolution that leaves the reader feeling emotionally satisfied. They should close your book feeling that the ending you wrote was the only way the book could have ended.



37 thoughts on “The Power Of A Great Opening

  1. Oh how I love to read! Your quoted advice from Smallman is so on target. I do find myself reading to find out how writers write, then shamelessly attempt to inject some of their goodness into my own writing.

    Your opening? Looks like you’ve mastered the art!

  2. Thank you!I do try but that doesn’t mean there’s not more to learn. I find Phyllis Smallman’s example inspiring, but a great opening has always made a difference. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – I bet most of us don’t know where that comes from but we recognize the opening.

    Thank you for stopping by.

  3. Great opening Pam! And I couldn’t agree more…writers should be great readers first! You’ve no idea how many people I meet that are dying to write a novel, but confess that they aren’t readers. I can’t even conceive of the concept:) I do love the opening….

  4. Openings are SO important. As a novelist I have edited and edited mine tip I hope it’s a winner. But I completely agree with what you’re saying about learning from other authors. If I’m ever stuck with how to write a scene I just look up an author I admire and try and learn from. Easier said than done but it’s a good writing tool.

  5. Hi Jaqueline

    I hope the car repairs aren’t anything major. Those can be nasty and please don’t worry about being human. I’m glad you liked the opening.

    I can’t imagine wanting to be a writer and not being a reader but to each their own. I think sometimes what they really mean is they want to tell stories and I think we all have that in us.

  6. Hi A.K.

    By the way what does A.K. stand for?

    So true.It’s sometimes good when you have just a few minutes to open books at random and check the openings but I find good openings are as individual as authors.

    The example from my book plunges you into the action and hopefully leaves you wanting more. Phyllis Smallman’s is so descriptive and evocative that I feel as if I’m the bar with her.

    Happy writing!

  7. Hello Pat
    You know what , when I started reading, all of sudden it came to my mind that I will read a nice romantic story today and then sleep but .. it ended soon :) .
    The start really matters , it not only matters in books , articles but also in presentations. The way someone starts the conversation ( I am taking when writer writes he is having a conversation with reader) has a lasting impact.
    When we move on many more subjects or topics come to support the main topic. If end is good surly the reader feels relaxed an happy to read that but sometimes I came across some books in which end spoiled whole taste of story.
    As yo said that one learns from others by reading and interacting.
    Thanks for a nice post.

  8. Hi

    I think beginnings always matter. And you’re right, we do learn from others, whether by reading or interacting with them in some way.

    Thanks for stopping by


  9. If the opening of what I am reading doesn’t grab me right away, I am outta here. What a great idea to see what you have written from the reader’s point of view. It is a simple concept that more writers should consider.

  10. Oh yes, a great opening is priceless. And a great ending is important as well. I hear complaints frequently that a book was great but didn’t have a decisive ending.

  11. Hi Beth

    So true.Name dropping here but Michael Palmer made a big deal of the ending. He pointed out you can be in a bar talking to friends about different movies and they’ll be going ‘what was that one, I can’t remember but remember that great train crash at the end.’ I think we can safely assume it wasn’t a chick flick. But his point was that you can have a pretty good book or movie and if the ending just kind of peters out readers and viewers are disappointed.

  12. I think the great opening is really important as a way to acquire readers and get them to commit. I know I have read books that didn’t have a great opening, didn’t have a great first chapter and didn’t have a great first 100 pages. And once in a while I would get into the story further on and really enjoy it. But those were books by authors I knew and liked or books recommended by people who I know have similar tastes. If you read an opening and it makes no impression, it is hard to move on. Unless maybe you’ve just dropped $30 on the hardcover.

  13. Hi Ken.

    It’s true I’ve done that with name authors whose previous work I’ve enjoyed and usually it’s paid off in the end. Name writers have made a name for themselves for a reason. But as a beginning writer I need a good opening. Truthfully, I think if you want readers to come back for another book you need to follow with a good middle and a great ending.

  14. Great observations. I love checking out opening ‘hooks’ and wishing that I could craft one like that. There are so many ways to capture a reader and the author doesn’t have a lot of time to entice them, that’s for sure.

  15. I am a published poet as well as an eternal student of poetry. When I began taking writing workshops, I learned that in order to learn the craft of writing in your genre, you must read poetry extensively. You must find the writer’s whose style resonates with you and eventually you develop your own voice, as is my case. That said, a writer may or may not have a given talent. Talent cannot be taught but learning the craft in whatever genre you write is something all serious and truly worthwhile writers undertake.

  16. Hi Michele

    Congratulations on being a published poet. I think a writer needs to read extensively in all genres, particularly the one they are interested in being published in. Poetry can be extremely useful in getting a sense of rhythm but I definitely know multi-published authors who make their living writing, who haven’t studied poetry itself. Talent can not be taught but many people want to write their own stories and talent is often in the eye of the beholder. I think we can both agree that learning the craft is something all writers who are serious about writing should do.

  17. Hi Jodie

    I seem to remember your books having great openings. They launch you into the action at warp speed,introducing you to the characters and making the reader want to read more. That’s probably because, like me, you do study opening line.

    Thanks so much for stopping by. I can’t wait to learn more about Rachel and Stephanie’s adventures.

  18. You’re right about the great opening being important. We use the library and start at A and work our way through to Z. This way we’re always finding new authors. I will look at a book in the library and often it’s the first paragraph that convinces me to take the book home and the first chapter that tells us whether to keep reading or not.

  19. Hi Pat,

    A great opening is the first necessary element of a piece of work. I find I usually struggle mightily before I come up with something that I’m satisfied with. Yours sounds so good, I’ll keep reading. :)


  20. Hi Sylvia

    I just finished your book, Suspended Animation, and you drew me in. In fact you had me up reading half the night and I’m not a big hockey fan.

    I’m looking forward to having you here as a guest.

  21. Hi Lenie

    I think that’s true of most of us, whether in the library or bookstore. It’s probably cover, blurb, opening line and then first paragraph or some combination of those. Even if someone’s recommended a book to me I’m not going to spend beyond the first couple of pages unless there’s something that draws me in.

  22. Hi Maggie

    I feel sure you’ll succeed. If you’re stuck maybe a trip to the local library or bookstore will allow you to research opening lines from other writers work you admire. That might trigger an idea for your own. And if you feel like sharing I’d love to see the line you come up with!

  23. Reading to learn how others write is a huge reason why I read. When you come across that author that speaks your language and expresses with words as you would, it is a treasure.

  24. Hi Tim

    Very true but while other authors can teach you a lot, it’s important to develop your own voice. And from the blogs I’ve read on your travel and family history I’d say you’re succeeding.

    Thanks for stopping by

  25. I did not mean to say that every writer must study poetic forms. What I meant to say is that every writer must read extensively and study the genre in which they write. After I re-read my comment, I wanted to edit it but was unable to.

  26. Hi Michele

    I’ve done that myself with comments. Just yesterday I had to ask a blogger to please, please delete the first two comments because for some reason my iPad seemed to be a bit flaky and the comments seemed to send while I was in the middle of typing them. And to apple users out there it probably was author error but I have no idea what I was doing to cause this. LOL

    As to poetry, while I know not every writer studies poetic forms I do think you can get a lot out of doing so.


  27. Timely post as I’ve been thinking about openings this week. Sometimes I’ve been told to start in the middle. I don’t think one always has to do that, but the point is that the start has to grab the reader and pull them in. Writers’ first drafts often include a lot of back story at the beginning that needs to be removed in subsequent edits. At least, I’ve found that to be true for me.

  28. I don’t worry too much about the opening line on my first draft. On the second draft you may find the action really starts a chapter or more in. Particularly if you’re writing suspense that means cut the opening you have and start where the action starts. Michael Connelly said it best when he said add it in like cheese. He had a great, funny story to go with it, but the basic idea was back story adds texture and depth to the story but it should be like cheese in a Spagetti sauce. You taste it but it’s slivered in so finely you don’t even realize it’s there.

    Then it’s time to really worry about that opening line.

  29. I remember writing the opening of my first story and then reading something that said “openings are the hardest part to write, Be prepared to write your opening 30 times.” I thought – no, I like it. Ha! Well I still like it, but I’m not using it (not right for the genre, too literary) and I’ve probably changed it 50 times! Your advise to study writers you like in the genre is right on.
    Thanks Pat.

  30. I agree, good opening sentences or phrase are so very important. I do try to learn from other authors and writers by watching what the do and how they do it. It really does help. That said, finding a opening that is an attention grabber is much easier said than done. :-)

  31. Hi Judy

    I bet I’d like the first opening you came up with too. Along with the one you’re using now and some of the ones in between. Genre makes a huge difference as you say. You’re a woman of many talents and I look forward to seeing more of your work.

    Take care

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