A while back I posted Part One of this Blog. Here’s the rest of the story…
There are a few other things to think about while you are writing that OPENING to your story. Remember, it might be the only thing an agent or editor reads. Make him or her want to read the rest of it.
How To Open a Great Short Story using the 5 Basic Elements covered in Aristotle’s The Poetics: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and the General Theme or Point of Your Story (Man Against Nature Man Against Man; Man Against Himself; Love Conquers All, etc.)
The perfect plot is simple, not complex. Aristotle from The Poetics
1. The Plot in a Short Story especially, but most stories in general should –
a. Have a beginning, middle, and an end, but start in the middle of the beginning. This makes the reader want to see what he missed so he keeps turning those pages. EXAMPLE: “I already told you. I met the guy in a bar. We got to talking. Somehow he knew I’d been in trouble with the law before.” (Something bad has already taken place and this guy is explaining it.)
b. Get to the point with very little, if any, backstory. You can add that later. EXAMPLE: “But you’re married, Janice.” (Obviously something has elicited this reaction. Now the reader will want to know what Janice has been up to.)
c. Hook the reader with a compelling reason to continue reading; an “out-of-whack” event; something that changes the protagonist’s world profoundly and the reader just has to know what happens next. EXAMPLE: “How long has he been in the water?” I asked, knowing by the bloated, blue body it was too long. What was left of the corpse’s clothes had shredded, exposing large masses of distended flesh. – From Damning Evidence – by G.B. Pool – (Obviously our private detective will have another murder to solve.)
d. A story-worthy problem or situation is the heart and soul of your story; your annual Christmas letter doesn’t cut it, neither does just a series of bad things happening to someone; there has to be some extenuating circumstances that brought about this calamity.
e. Or have something that changes the protagonist’s world profoundly and the reader just has to know what happens next: EXAMPLE: John Smith didn’t know he was an amnesiac. He discovered that and the fact he was married to two women when one of them turned up dead.
f. Make sure the Opening Scene has some relevance to the rest of the story, whether it actually figures into the plot or echoes the theme. Opening in a beautiful flower garden better reveal a dead body in the posies. Or hearing about a long ago train wreck better foretell another “train wreck.”
a. Don’t introduce all your characters at once, but begin with an important one.
b. Don’t over describe your characters at first; leave some traits for later, but start with something compelling like the smoking gun in her hand.
c.. And remember, actions always speak louder than words, so have your character do something or see something right away.
3. Dialogue: It gets you into the story fast and moves the story along even faster than merely telling the story.
a. Dialogue can set the stage (EXAMPLE: “The bridge is out!”), define a character’s education level or regional origin by their accent (EXAMPLE: “Honey, did y’all get another dawg?”) or get into a character’s personality (EXAMPLE: “I loathe you,” she said, grinding her cigarette into the back of his hand. “Have a nice day.”)
b. Dialogue, whether it’s an internal monologue or between two people, performs a major function. (If it doesn’t, rewrite it.)
i. Dialogue with occasional body language enhances (describes) the character; (EXAMPLE: ““Go ahead. Date my ex-wife,” he said and then slammed his fist into the wall.)
ii. Dialogue advances the plot (EXAMPLE: My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me. Before I went legit, I ran numbers in Jersey for Big Louie “Fingers” D’Abruzzo and then busted heads in Miami for Big Eddie “Mambo” Fontaine. But at the ripe old age of twenty-four, Little Johnny beat a hasty retreat to L.A. when somebody slipped the cops a hot tip and all of a sudden, I became the fall guy for the Mob.) FROM THE JOHNNY CASINO CASEBOOK 1 – PAST IMPERFECT BY G.B. POOL
iii. And dialogue gets you up close and personal as if you were eavesdropping on the conversation; EXAMPLE: Before Donald got out of his chair to greet me, I launched. “Are you out of your freaking mind? Marrying somebody before you even buried your wife! Do you want me to save your butt or direct traffic to your hanging?” I was speaking in a crescendo, starting around contralto, and ending somewhere in the soprano range.
“I never loved my wife!” he declared in clear basso profundo.
“Did you kill her?” I yelled.
“No!” he shot back.
Note: As the dialogue gets more intense, the fewer words are used.)
4. Have a terrific Setting or Sense of Place.
You want to set the stage whether it’s an attic room or a ballroom, a secluded path or a desert vista. Paint that background and then get out of the way and let your characters experience it.
EXAMPLE: It was going to be the hottest damn day of the year. Those Santa Anas were kicking up, turning the L.A. basin into a blast furnace. If it didn’t cool off, half the state would catch fire. From “Heat” G.B. Pool
5. The Point of the Story
Reread your story and ask yourself: Does this make sense? Does your opening tie in with the ending? Does the Title fit the story?
The Opening: I couldn’t believe they found Brad’s body. I thought I buried him deeper. FROM “A ROLE TO DIE FOR” BY G.B.POOL
The Closing: “They think an animal killed him, dug a shallow trench to hide his kill for later, and must have forgotten where it was buried.” He walked closer and put his warm hand on my arm. “It was ruled…death by cougar.”
Aaron smashed the plastic bag containing the vodka bottle against the fireplace and the glass shattered. Then he took my hand and led me upstairs.
I’ll always wonder if he ever read that “cougar” book, but I’ll never ask. Lovers have to have some secrets. FROM “A ROLE TO DIE FOR” BY G.B.POOL
(FROM THE OPENING, Our protagonist obviously had something to do with Brad’s death. At the Closing, her boyfriend must know it, too, but they will both postpone the inevitable until later.)
As for the TITLE, “A Role to Die For,” several people died while she was securing those roles. That’s showbiz…
In Conclusion: This might be a lot to think about, but opening your story well will have readers follow it to the end… and maybe read your next story. Write On…
16 thoughts on “Open Your Story with a BANG! PART TWO by G.B. Pool”
Excellent advice, GB. This should be required reading for every student of writing.
If a story opens well, I’m pretty sure it will be worth reading.
What a wonderful–and helpful–post, GB! It provided information and reminders I need and I’m sure many writers do.
I make a point of reworking the opening of my stories many times just to have that grabber. And then I make sure the ending fits. This writing stuff is work… but i love it.
Wonderful post, GB, and some excellent advice for any writer, beginner or experienced. I love your examples–they reveal that this can be done, if the writer takes the time to work it out.
I do believe if a writer can open a story well, he or she will take the time to make sure the rest of the story fits that beginning and that the ending fits as well. But, oh that beginning…
Wow. I feel like I’ve been in a college writing class. Great stuff, and the examples you gave clarified it all, in case I was wondering. Seriously, you should write a book. Oh, wait! You did! http://amzn.to/2BJkM27 Check it out, readers!
Thanks, Jaxon. When I was preparing to teach that writing course for Sisters-in-Crime years ago I went back to see what I did when I wrote something, and lo and behold, I actually do this stuff. And I make sure I follow my own examples (and Aristotle’s) when I write. I works for me. Hope it works for others.
I always love reading your examples, especially the ones from your own books. It makes me want to read them again! Great advice. I’m off to recheck my latest opening lines.
Jack, I have a list of the openings and closing of all my work just to see if I have been following my own advice. Most fit the guidelines. I make sure all my new things cover the basics.
Excellent information! It’s that all important opening that grabs ya. If I’m not going to read a book, my decision is usually made during the “Opening.” Great points to remember.
You are so right, Mad. Whether it’s an intriguing setting, a quirky character, or an exciting, roller-coaster ride, that opening has to grab or they toss the book.
I’ve read A ROLE TO DIE FOR and it’s one of my favorite short stories. Lots of great advice that we all need to hear—more than once. I must find Part 1.
Maggie, Part One was posted in October of last year, 2017. I am glad you are enjoying our posts. We all love writing and want to encourage and entertain readers and other writers.
Gayle – I always learn so much from you, no matter much I read of yours. And your opening dialogue is always spot on! Thanks.
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We all learn the more we read and the more we write. And I love it.