Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 1, 2010

Types of Book and Chapter Openings

Back in October Anita Nolan visited our weekend retreat and discussed how we could use various beginnings to open our novels.  We figured out what type of opening we had used and then worked on changing our beginning by using one of the types listed below.  I was very surprised when everyone came up with a new great beginning and some ended up with a much better way to open.

Action: Plunge into the situation. Good for action-packed books. Risk in using is that the reader hasn’t connected with the main character before the action starts.  (Action openings don’t have to be dangerous.) Such as in Walter Dean Meyers,Monster – The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beat up and screaming for help.

Big Bang: Subset of action.  Guns, bombs, murder.  Often used in thrillers and murder-mysteries. An example is The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean – They found it there behind a coffin on the bottom shelf – a simple crawl space.

Attention Grabber: Like this first line in Richard Pecks book,  A Long Way from Chicago –  You wouldn’t think we’d have to leave Chicago to see a dead body.          

Dialogue: Start with a catchy piece of dialogue, either spoken or internal. Often conveys conflict. Like in Ally Carter’s, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy – “Just be yourself,” my  mother said, as if that were easy. (also Philosophical)

A Question: Like in E. B White’s, Charlotte’ Web “Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

Philosophical: Begin with a thought, comment, or feeling. Often used in witty, humorous novels. Tricky to transition well. Such as in Sarah Weeks, So B. It –  If the truth was a crayon and it was up to me to put a wrapper around it and name its color, I know just what I would call it – dinosaur skin.

Character Introduction: Begin by introducing an interesting character quality, an interesting psychological facet of the character, or a circumstance that the reader can relate to or be shocked by, thereby making him want to learn more about the character. Jerry Spinelli’s, CrashMy real name is John.  John Coogan.  But everyone calls me Crash, even my parents.

Mood/Setting: Should match the overall tone and pace of book. A saga or slow-paced book sometimes starts with a zoom lens—going from wide and slowly zooming in on the immediate surroundings of the main character. Zoom lens is good for a book that’s epic in tone. Gennifer Choldenko Al Capone Does My Shirts –  Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water.

Character Looking Back in Time: Often used in literary fiction. Good for emotional stories. A way to slip in a BIT of backstory that’s necessary up front. Kate DiCamillo’s, Because of Winn Dixie –  My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my Daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.

State the Problem: Like in Jerry Spinelli’s, Wringer – He did not want to be a wringer.

POSSIBLE WAYS TO IMPROVE AN OPENING:

  • Open later in the story. Find a place in the story with action, includes the major players, that isn’t a flashback, and foreshadows the story conflict and see if you can make that the opening.
  • Switch the order of scenes you already have.
  • If starting w/ description or exposition, move things around and start with action or dialogue instead.

You can visit Anita’s website at www.anitanolan.com Hope this gives you some new thoughts for how you open your novel. If you get the opportunity to sign up for one of Anita’s workshops, I’d encourage you to do so.  She has a lot of information to share.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy 


Responses

  1. Lovin’ all this great info, Kathy! You and Anita are both amazing 🙂 I’m about 3 or 4 weeks behind on everything…wondering what’s in all those blogs of yours! 🙂

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  2. These are great examples! Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I attended Anita’s workshop on Openings and I’m so glad you’ve repeated the information here. I’ve been rewriting and rewriting my beginning. I often go to Amazon and read first pages of middle grade novels, hoping to find the spark in my own work. This refresher will sure help. Thanks Kathy and Anita.

    Hey, it’s snowing. Better on your blog than on my local streets!

    Mary

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  4. Very helpful info. Thanks!

    Jean
    http://www.jeanmatthewhallwords.blogspot.com

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  5. Uuuuuuuuuuugh… I am working on the opening of my story and right now it is not coming along very well. I will use some of these ideas and see if anything helps. Even if it doesn’t, I really liked this list. I always find stuff like this interesting.

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  6. I once improved the opening by moving it further back. I started too late in the story, right in the middle of a fight that had no relevence whatsoever.

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