Wednesday, March 21, 2007

In Search of a Great Opening

My guest on “Chatting with Chase” this month was Leigh Michaels, author of 75+ romance books and On Writing Romance, her recent release from Writer’s Digest Books. (You can catch her interview here if you missed it). During the interview, Leigh read opening paragraphs that had been submitted prior to the show and critiqued them on the air.

Well, since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about openings. And my struggle with my to-be-revised-for-the-hundredth-time opening to Running Away has provided me with … what, class? … Right! Yet another procrastination opportunity. For now, I must stop working on my book and go comb my personal romance library for other author’s books that contain openings that I like.

Here are some of the favorites I’ve (re-)discovered ….

“How can you tell it’s a scrotum?” Reggie turned the page sideways, then a full 180 degrees, then back to what she assumed was the original orientation.Delicious, by Jami Alden

This immediately grabbed my attention, making me wonder why Reggie can’t tell it’s a scrotum from whatever she’s looking at, why she’s looking at it to begin with, and where the story’s going to go from here.

One moment he was a faceless stranger standing on a Mexican street corner; the next he was opening the passenger side door and sliding into the rented orange Volkswagon Rabbit beside her.Wild Orchids, by Karen Robards

Need I say more? Who wouldn’t be hooked, wanting to read on to see what this stranger is going to do to the heroine? Ms. Robards has led me to suspect an adventure will follow (and it does).

AN ENORMOUS .357 MAGNUM, AIMED POINT-BLANK BETWEEN her eyes – that was Gus Featherstone’s first clue that something had gone awry with her plans. The second was the black ski mask the gunman wore and the terrifying glint in his dark eyes. Apparently she should have been more specific when she arranged to have herself kidnapped.Blush, by Suzanne Forster

Similar to Wild Orchids, I’ve got another potential ‘kidnap’ tale here. (Oh goody!) But not only am I thrown into the midst of the action, Ms. Forster has given me the premise for the whole book in that last sentence. And since it’s such a unique premise, I can’t wait to read on.

The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I have never before had occasion to make the comparison, for never before today, have I seen a head in a roasting pan. But here are forty of them, one per pan, resting face-up on what looks to be a small pet-food bowl … - Stiff, by Mary Roach

I was hooked on Stiff from the back cover blurb but when I started reading this paragraph, I knew I had to buy the book. As if a book on dead bodies and what happens to them wasn’t compelling enough, after reading this, I knew I wasn’t going to get a clinical discussion or a bunch of mundane facts.

A woman didn’t have to stand on the corner to become a prostitute. All women at some point in their lives have exchanged pussy for goods and services. The best tricksters could barter for homes, cars, diamonds, furs, and enough cash to maintain a five-figure bank account. The unsophisticated females, oblivious to how much men would pay to bust a nut or have their dicks sucked, were happy with a movie, a meal, and a few lies about how much the man loved her … - Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This, by Mary B. Morrison

Whoa. This is real, raw. What has made this woman become so jaded? I’m ready to read on to find out. And then, when I realize it’s a guy thinking this, I’m doubly intrigued.

So, I’ve shared a few of my favorites. Comments? Thoughts? What's your favorite opening paragraph from a book?

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At 11:07 AM, Blogger Amie Stuart said...

I LURVE the Jami Alden one--I have the book and it's as great as that opening line!

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Rachelle Chase said...

Yep! :-) Thanks for stopping by, Amie ...

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Tempest Knight said...

Oh there are so many good ones I can't think of one from the top of my head. Sorry. What can I say? Old age. *lol* But a good opening definitely, that first line is that one that grabs me and makes me read a book.

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Jami Alden said...

Thanks for the shout out, Rachelle, and for bringing back one of my favorites - I think I wore out my copy of Wild Orchids!

Now I really need to come up with a better opening for my WIP...

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Rachelle Chase said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9:44 PM, Blogger Rachelle Chase said...

Okay ... let's try this again without the typos ...

Tempest, I find the whole concept of openings interesting. As a reader, I rank the back cover blurb higher than an opening. Meaning, if the description of the book doesn't catch me, I'm not going to open it. And if I'm really sold on the cover blurb and pressed for time, I'll just buy the book without opening it. But if I'm interested but not quite sold on the cover blurb, I'll definitely open the book. And unless the author completely turns me off in the first paragraph, I'll give him/her a couple of pages to hook me. Sheesh, is that a complicated decision-making process or what? LOL

You're welcome, Jami. :-) Yeah, I went and re-read WILD ORCHIDS earlier this year. That's the great part about keeping books around for years. No matter how much I like a book, I cannot remember the details of the story as the years pass, so when I re-read it, it's almost like reading a new book again. LOL Good luck with your WIP!

At 10:19 PM, Blogger Jordan Summers said...

Great opening lines. I can't find my copy, but I love the opening line to Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie (sp). Great openers get me every time. :)

At 5:19 AM, Blogger Rachelle Chase said...

Since you teased me, Jordan, I had to go find it. Here's the opening line from Jennifer Crusie's book, WELCOME TO TEMPTATION:

Sophie Dempsey didn't like Temptation even before the Garveys smashed into her '86 Civic, broke her sister's sunglasses, and confirmed all her worst suspicions about people from small towns who drove beige Cadillacs.

At 1:31 AM, Anonymous Michelle said...

One of my faorite books, The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead starts:

She doesn't know what to do with her eyes. The front door of the building is too scarred and gouged to look at, and the street behind her is improbably empty, as if the city had been evacuated and she's the only one who didn't hear about it. There is always the game at moments like this to distract her.

Off the wall and rich is the only way to describe this book.

At 5:30 AM, Blogger Rachelle Chase said...

Michelle, I think that opening is a perfect example that an opening does not have to be dramatic - just different and interesting enough to make the reader wonder ... and of course you made me rush off to Amazon to see what THE INTUITIONIST was about. :-) Sounds very different and quirky.

Thanks for sharing one of your favorites, Michelle.

At 3:56 AM, Anonymous Michelle said...

Pleasure, Rachelle. You'll never get into an elevator again without thinking about things a bit differenly, if you read The Intuitionist :)

At 7:15 AM, Blogger Rachelle Chase said...

Hmmmm ... I already don't like elevators. Maybe I shouldn't read this book. :-) Thanks, Michelle.

At 9:25 PM, Blogger Edie said...

My office is upstairs, and you sent me running down to look at books. I looked at about 7 books that I knew were great--and discovered their first paragraphs weren't all as awesome as the ones you gave as examples.

Finally I found a good one in my favorite Dick Francis book, PROOF:

Agony is socially unacceptable. One is not supposed to weep. Particularly is one not supposed to weep when one is moderately presentable and thirty-two. When one's wife had been dead six months and everyone else has done grieving.

At 6:00 AM, Blogger Rachelle Chase said...

Isn't that funny, Edie? I had the same experience. I was amazed to discover how so many of my favorite books did not have an exciting opening paragraph. Which is why, in a previous post, I'd stated that I've found I have a bit more tolerance with openings.

I don't have to be hooked by the first paragraph. If the theme of the book has caught me, I already really want to like it. So, unless the opening is really bad, I'll give the author a page or so to hook me.

Well, your trip downstairs was well worth it, for that's a very compelling paragraph. I especially like the first and last sentences. And it really strikes a chord because who has not felt the external pressure to get over something traumatic quickly? To have to put on your happy face because you feel that people cannot deal with what you're really feeling?

Thanks for sharing one of your favorites, Edie. Yet another book to add to my list. Sigh ... :-)


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