This week I’ve been thinking and reading about beginnings. Opening lines, whether in a novel or story, carry the heavy task of holding the reader’s interest and providing sufficient information to orient the reader to the core setting and characters. Perhaps early narrative did start with the famous fairy tale lines of “once upon a time” but most readers want more, if they’re to be seduced into buying a book or reading a story in a journal.
|Alex Dunn & Jim Wilson- CHILE – Great Photo – March 2012
Homer set the standard in The Odyssey. The Greek concept of “in media res” which means to begin in the middle of things, is the standard for most openings, even now. In her book, Building Fiction: How to develop plot and structure, Jesse Lee Kercheval writes “Structurally, openings tend to fall into three basic types, which I’ll call – Into the Pot, Already Boiling; Calm Before the Story; and Opening Statements to the Jury.” While these types of openings are not the only ones, they seem to be among the most successful.
Beginnings often plague writers. P.G. Wodehouse acknowledged the problem in his classic Jeeves novels. “Its a thing you don’t want to go wrong over, because one false step and you’re sunk. I mean if you fool about too long at the start, trying to establish atmosphere, as they call it, and all that sort of rot, you fail to grip and the customers walk out on you.”
Michael Seidman’s useful book, Fiction: The Art and Craft of Writing and Getting Published, writes “There are two decisions you have to make as you begin: Where and How; where does your story begin and how should you present it to the reader?”
“Opening words must enthrall in much the same way a bag of popcorn seduces the movie-goer to munch it down without pause.”
Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers. Learn more at: