By Jennie Atkins
The other day my husband and I were driving through a nearby town and we passed a bulletin board that read, “A good story never starts with a salad.” The sign was outside a local beverage store, so the meaning was obvious, but I decided to ponder the statement a little further.
I do like a good salad, but given the opportunity for steak, shrimp, or perhaps dessert, I’m more apt to bypass the leafy greens. Why? Because even though the tastier meals have an adverse effect on my bathroom scale, I enjoy those hearty meals and sweet treats, they are comfort foods, and make me feel good. My emotional food meter is instantly engaged.
So shouldn’t our readers immediately experience some sort of emotion response to the opening lines and scenes of our stories? How many books have you read where the opening was so non-descript that it left you wondering what the “rest of the story” was like? Or, it left you hoping the book would, somewhere in the next few pages, get better? I’ve opened many books by well-known authors (even some who have the privilege of hitting the New York Times best-seller lists), who put little effort into the creation of their opening statement. In other words, they settled for bland salad.
You’re probably thinking, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve read it a thousand other times in craft books and heard it at conferences and seminars. If that’s so and it’s so important, how come I can pull more books off my shelf that have bad opening lines (and opening scenes) than good ones? It’s the one chance we have to grab the attention of editors, agents, and hopefully readers.
Make it concise. Make it emotion packed. But most of all, take the extra time to hone your opening lines. Never settle for status quo. You'll find it's worth the effort.
Your turn: So I ask you, what percentage of books that you’ve had the opportunity to read, were less than stellar?