Thursday 20 November 2014

Openings to Stories...

Wednesday night at the writers' club I was in charge of the evening; it was a 'Discuss and Read' session.

This month's topic was openings- whether a novel or a short story- and the idea was to bring in a book where the start grabbed you and made you want to find out more...

Writing the opening of a story?
I took along the latest issue of the Woman's Weekly Fiction Special as there were a few interesting opening paragraphs that immediately made you want to read on- well a few of the older men didn't find them intriguing, but they weren't the target market of the magazine! :D

It was interesting to compare the openings of 'The 39 Steps' by John Buchan, written as a serial in the summer of 1915 before being published as a book a few months later, and Michael Frayn's, 'Towards the End of Morning' originally published in 1967.

Both these books didn't follow the grab your reader in quite the way it would be now. They were a more subtle winding of tendrils around the reader, luring them in out of curiosity rather than an outright, yes I want to know more now reaction.

 I had that, I want to know more now reaction to a modern sci-fi/fantasy type opening read by one of the members- when I can get in touch with her and find out the title and author, I'll let you know.

Like the other two, the opening was centred around the thoughts of the viewpoint character, but in this case you knew something was going to happen to this one any moment, and it wouldn't be good.

Obviously the writing style of those 20th century written novels were different to the current demands. Novel lengths were shorter, and long paragraphs weren't frowned upon because that was the norm.

Openings are never easy, and I do wonder whether these earlier writers went through the same indecision with the start of their novels, that writers nowadays often experience.

Personally I couldn't narrow down my choice of openings that have stayed with me, from all the novels I've read...

Do you have a favourite opening to a novel that has stayed with you?

Image courtesy of Nuttapong via


Patsy said...

Ii'm sure it's cheating to say 'Above her, a seagull screamed', but in my naturally biased opinion it does set the scene for Paint Me a Picture.

'The Clock struck 13' from 1984 is a good one (I hope I've remembered it correctly) It gives a hefty clue that things in the story will differ from the world we know and the choice of 13 instead of any of the other possibilities hints the differences aren't jolly ones.

Suzanne Ross Jones said...

I was going to say 1984, too (snap, Patsy :0). Though I hated the actual book, that first sentence really grabs attention.

The other one that had a huge impact on me was: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” I suspect I'm not alone with that one, either.

Carolb said...

Those are good examples, Patsy. :D
And who could resist reading on when they've been told the clock has just struck 13 instead of 12.

Carolb said...

Strangely enough, Suzanne, when I opened the discussion I said that of course we all know the opening ' It is a truth universally..." etc, and one voice piped up to say they didn't know it, but they were from eastern Europe, so perhaps Jane Austen never spread that far.