What’s Wrong With Your Opening Line?

letters-flying-into-dictionary-pagesDo you want to know what’s wrong with your story’s opening line or opening paragraph? Probably nothing.

So many times authors are told that their opening line or their opening paragraph just isn’t killer enough. It doesn’t seize the reader and yank them into the story.  But what does that really mean?

For almost a decade, new authors thought that meant dropping the reader right into the middle of some physical struggle or verbal argument with no introduction as to who the characters were, what they were fighting about, or even where and when they were. Instead of pulling the reader into the story, it simply left them wondering why they should care enough to figure it out.

I grabbed his arm before his hand could connect with my already bruised face. His leg reached out and swept my feet out from under me. I landed hard on my hip. With a hiss of pain, I tried to roll out of the way of his swinging boot. The toe of his large work boot clipped my shoulder, and my arm grew numb. Footsteps pattered along the hallway to my left, and my heart wrenched. Mikey was awake.

Who is I? And who is I fighting with? And who is Mikey and why should we care about any of this? Is this a domestic dispute of some kind, or is it two men fighting? There is little in this example for the reader to go on. So, unless the reader loves solving unintended mysteries (who are the combatants and why are they fighting), then your potential readers will simply move on to something less confusing.

However, the next example isn’t much better. The only thing happening is description. If this is an action/adventure story, you’ve probably lost your audience at the first paragraph.

It was hot and sticky. The air felt thick and refused to move. The rattling table fan sitting on the desk next to the open window did little to cool things off. Noise from the city street fell through the window and filled Sam’s fourth floor flat with more life than it had probably ever known.

Sam sat in the desk chair staring at the open check book. The neat precise numbers marched down the columns showing him just exactly how little of his inheritance remained. He rubbed a damp hand through his thinning brown hair. The material of his stained white T-shirt clung to his perspiring back, and he wondered just what he was going to do now. 

Writers are now finally realizing that confusing the reader right from the start is nearly as bad as boring them. So, how do you grab your reader’s attention, and how do you write that epic opening line?

Use Your Skills

You grab the reader by using your skill and understanding with words and language to craft the best story you can. By focusing too much of your attention on the opening of the story, you can block the story from growing the way it should. Each story and each writer has their own rhythm . The words flow in a certain way, following an innate path, and when you force the opening into an unnatural rhythm—unnatural to the overall story and unnatural to your writing style—it can sound stilted, stiff, and uninteresting.

A great opening isn’t in the opening sentence as much as it is in the author’s ability to craft a story. For instance, our writing group does a twice-a-month writing prompt. We are all given the same opening sentence, which we then have to use to create a short story, poem, or first chapter of a book (not that we have to write the whole book, but for some writers, the writing prompt stirs something more than a short story in them).

Here are some examples of how one sentence can pull you into a story or push you away from it.

EXAMPLE 1:

“Stop or I’ll shoot,” a gruff male voice shouted at me between grunts of exertion.

I zipped along the sidewalk trying to put as much distance between me and my pursuer as I could. I couldn’t get caught now. Not before I had a chance to set things straight.

I stayed to the deeper shadows, avoiding the streetlights as best I could. The gloves and mask should make it hard for him to determine my skin and hair color. If I could get away, the only description he’d have would be medium height, dark clothes, wearing a dark hoodie.

Something smashed into the sidewalk near my foot and I heard the report of a gunshot.

Geez, I couldn’t believe he was actually shooting.

I started to zig-zag my way toward the maze of alleyways ahead when there was another gunshot. At nearly the same moment, something sharp sliced across my upper arm. Damn, I hissed. That really hurt. I ducked around the corner into the alley and immediately hooked my good arm over the pipe that I used as a ladder to the second-floor window of the abandoned warehouse.

EXAMPLE 2:

“Stop or I’m gonna shoot!” the gunman shouted as he waved his weapon toward the hostages.

Our hoped-for take down of the hostage-taker aborted, my partner and I stopped and raised our arms. My partner’s face was drawn as she whispered, “What do we do now?”

I opened my mouth to answer, and burst out laughing. A moment later, my partner, joined in.

“Cut…cut,” the director turned to us. “Really?”

“I’m sorry,” I muttered as we continued laughing. “But you have to admit, it’s a bit cliché.” The writing for this show had been getting so insipid lately; not that the show had ever been more than your basic cop drama. I played the rugged, rumpled, and slightly jaded cop, whose instincts were nearly always right; while up-and-coming actress, Pam Brewer, played my over-eager, naïve, rookie partner. As I said, very typical. Still, the writing had never been this hackneyed.

The director gave us several minutes to pull ourselves together, and we set up to do the scene again.

EXAMPLE 3:

“Stop or I’ll shoot,” yelled the tall, handsome, dark-haired man as he held his revolver pointed at Jane. The night air was warm, yet Jane—a statuesque blonde with figure that would make Mattel’s Barbie envious—could feel the goosebumps rise all along her arms. She had no idea how she was going to get out of this predicament.

Graceful and elegant in her midnight blue, designer sheath-style dress, she turned so that her four-inch-heeled Louboutan’s were now pointed toward Rick. Oh, it wasn’t the first time she had faced Rick, but it was the first time that she’d faced him when he’d held a gun on her. What was he thinking, anyway?

EXAMPLE 4:

“I’m gonna start shooting!” The threat echoed down the hallway as Suze fumbled with the door.

She twisted the knob again while yanking at the door. The hinges squealed as the door crashed open. Suze dashed onto the set just as the photographer raised his camera. Pete was probably one of the best commercial photographers around, but he was impatient, demanding, and cold…in a hot kind of way.

If it weren’t for his personality, she might have actually found Pete attractive. He had sapphire eyes and midnight hair, with a face that was more interesting than handsome. As for the body, well…let’s just say, she wouldn’t mind cozying up to that body. A warm shiver raced down her spine, but soon turned cold when his steely gaze pierced her, his impatience plainly visible.

Suze used one hand to stop the swaying of the hoop skirt on the period gown she was wearing and adjusted the low-cut bodice. They were in some museum-quality ballroom with bright filigree everywhere, and parquet floors. Several other models in satin britches or lace and satin gowns were also positioned in small groups and pairings throughout the room. This week Suze was selling Real Nature products, maple syrup and hot dogs. What maple syrup had to do with a fancy, dress ball, she had no idea.

Even the given writing prompt is subjective, as each writer changed it to fit the story he or she was creating. It’s still the same basic premise, but the writers changed the words to suit the circumstances of their stories. And that’s why an opening line or paragraph has more to do with the author’s ability to craft a good story using just the right cadence and words than it is has to do with a single sentence or a single paragraph. After all, not every reader is going to be moved by the opening line to your novel, just as you (as a reader) aren’t moved by every first line or paragraph you read.

So, don’t overthink the opening to your story, but do craft it well enough that it invites the reader into your story.

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Critters Who Love Books

close up photo of owl with one eye open
Photo by Jean van der Meulen on Pexels.com

It seems that humans aren’t the only ones who love to read. Erin Bartnett has noted at least 10 other animals that also love books and are willing to break library rules to get what they want. There are even some who actually ‘work’ for the libraries they visit…and one even has its own visitor card.

Click here to read more about these fascinating ten library visitors.

Auras and Shifting Realities

AboutAuras_Coverpic

I’ve been compiling my vast wealth of knowledge regarding chakras and auras into a book (the working title is About Auras). This past week, I have been focusing on organizing and writing summaries about each of the primary layers. Yesterday’s focus was the creative layer of energy.

The creative layer is where ideas are manifested in the physical world. It is this center that will drive someone to be an author, painter, chef, or to procreate. This is the center that provides the energy to ensure that your ideas are brought into being.

The way the center works isn’t magical, though. It won’t help you wave your hand and have a million dollars just suddenly pop into actuality. However, once you have an idea on how to do something that might earn you a million dollars, it will help provide the impetus to make it happen.

As I finished writing that, I received an email alerting me to a new posting from Cynthia Sue Larson. Her post, Reality Shifting and Quantum Jumping as a Spiritual Practice, was a wonderful description of what can happen and how your reality can shift when someone focuses their energies through their creative center. It was almost as if she knew what I had been writing about (maybe it’s quantum entanglement or maybe it’s just serendipity). Whatever the cause, I’m glad I received the post, and would like to share her interesting insights with you, happy readers.

Click here to read Ms. Larson’s post.

3 Steps to Great Non-Fiction

Escorting the Dead
Cover Design by DL-Design and Digital Art

Believe it or not, writing non-fiction is more than just dumping facts and figures into a book template. It requires just as much creativity as writing a novel…or maybe even a bit more.

Collecting the data or having some skill or wisdom that you want to share with the world is only half the challenge. Once you have the idea, the outline, and the information, you need to find an engaging way to present it to your reader. It needs to flow with personality, story, and interesting characters just as much as any novel does.

Writer August Birch offers authors some insight in meeting that challenge with the 3 steps described in his article: Write Better Non-Fiction By Asking These Three Magic Questions.

Knowing the Past Can Help You Now

clockinclockDid you know that learning about and acknowledging the truth of your past lives can help you resolve current life issues? Sometimes small things (like a patch of eczema or a feeling of being choked when wearing cowl or turtle necks) can be resolved by acknowledging the cause is actually something that happened in a past life.

In college I met a girl who marveled at the fact that I wore cowl and turtle neck sweaters (a lot). She, on the other hand, would only wear crew or v-neck sweaters. She said whenever she wore anything that hugged her neck (including jewelry or scarves), she would have difficulty breathing. She felt as if she was being choked and nothing would help except to remove the offensive clothing or jewelry. She also couldn’t stand to wear anything that hugged her wrists or ankles, including wide bracelets or sweatshirt-style cuffs. When she did, she always got a severe rash that took days to clear up.

Just out of curiosity, we both signed up for a course in alternative healing techniques. At one point, the teacher had us lie still as he put the group of us into a light trance. Once in that trance he guided us to our earliest childhood memories using a regression technique. (My memory was of falling into a giant fire ant hill while a toddler. And if you’ve ever been bitten by ants, you’ll understand that it wasn’t a very pleasant memory at all.)

Despite my painful childhood memory, though, I was very disappointed when the instructor ended the session. I had hoped that he would take us back even further. I had so wanted to see if anyone would remember any previous lives. Ever since reading the book The Search for the Girl with the Blue Eyes by Jess Stearn, I was fascinated by the idea of past lives and reincarnation. After reading that book, I read everything I could get my hands on regarding past lives and reincarnation. (This was way before the time of the Internet and ebooks. This was the era of brick and mortar libraries and bound paper books.)

I wasn’t sure how much of the reincarnation information I believed, but it made me look at things from a different perspective. Having gotten so close to seeing some of my own past lives, I was unwilling to give up. I practiced on my own after that class, and, eventually, I was able to capture bits and pieces of what I took to be past lives. But my girlfriend had troubles focusing, so we did a paired meditation using some of the techniques we had learned from the alternative healing class.

She lay down on the couch and I turned on the wave noise machine. The sound of waves shushing against the shore was supposed to help with relaxation. Again, using my notes from class, I instructed her to imagine herself in a corridor leading to a staircase. I then told her to go down the steps and after each step she would be in a deeper and deeper trance. When she reached the bottom of the steps, she would see numerous closed doors. I told her to go to the one that called to her; the one that drew her to it, and open it.

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Once she opened it, I asked her to tell me what she saw.

At first, she said she saw nothing. It was all darkness, no light. However, the smells, she said, were horrific. I asked her to tell me about it, and she said the air was stale, filled with the odor of sour bodies, salt water, feces, vomit, and urine. She also said that whatever she was standing on continually swayed, and it made her feel ill. There was something metallic around her neck, arms, and legs, which chafed and choked her. I told her to move ahead several days, and she said there was a little light creeping through the slats of wood surrounding her. She told me she was a large, black male, and that she was surrounded by others like her. They were crowded in together like cattle. Based on the swaying and the faint smell of sea water, she thought she might be in the hold of a ship. This seemed to be confirmed when, as I asked her to skip ahead again, she said that the swaying and rocking had increased to the point where everyone was sick, and it was extremely difficult to remain standing.

She could hear creaking and men yelling, and great gushes of sea water splashed down on them from above. She said there was a huge noise, like wood tearing away, and suddenly the water was rushing in around their feet. Being chained, there was very little she (he) could do to save herself/himself. The water filled the area where they were confined, and he drowned.

When she came out of the trance, I asked her about the memory. She said it wasn’t that she was angry at the people who had confined her, but more that she (he) had felt guilty for being unable to help himself or the others with him because of being chained up. Once she relived the memory, though, she realized that it wasn’t her fault, and no one blamed her except herself. With that realization and her own forgiveness, she was able to move on from that lifetime. While she never wore turtlenecks, she was able to wear cowl necks. And she also started wearing wrist watches and wide bracelets without ever having rashes or choking incidents again.

Of course, not all past lives have negative impacts on the current life. Sometimes a past (or multiple pasts) can leave a positive impression. For instance, I’ve spent numerous lives learning about natural healing techniques (including herbs and spices, gems and metals, and energy manipulations). As a result, I have what I call, an intrinsic (almost an instinctual nature) knowledge when it comes to analyzing what is wrong with someone and how best to help them regain their natural balance.

This is similar to what I’ve seen in other people, as well. A male friend of mine has spent numerous lifetimes learning about guitars and similar string instruments. He began playing the banjo when he was five, without a single lesson. He just knew how.

If you’re not sure how to regress yourself, and you’re uncomfortable asking a counselor or past life reader (such as myself), grab a copy of my Mastering Meditation book. It has great meditation techniques for capturing your past and future lives.

Mastering Meditation
Cover Design by DL-Design and Digital Art

Independent and Best Selling

adult-book-book-series-545068Being an indie author doesn’t mean you can’t become a best selling author.

In fact, far more best selling books seem to be coming from the non-traditional publishers and authors then ever before. With so many books now available via electronic platforms, it shouldn’t surprise any of us authors…and yet, I think it does.

We’re so geared to think of success as coming from being published by one of the established publishing companies, that we don’t realize just how much more control we have over our careers by being independents. Yet, many authors are finding that the way to the top is no longer through that long process of submission and rejection. Instead, the way to the top is by producing great stories that can reach their intended audiences through independent publishing. Once in the hands of readers, it’s only a matter of time before it reaches the top.

Brianne Alphonso has put together a list of some independent authors whose books have made it to the top in her article, “11 Books That Prove There’s Nothing Wrong with Self-Publishing.”

Review of “What the Dead Fear” by Lea Ryan

WhattheDeadFearWhat the Dead Fear by Lea Ryan

Summary:  “The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where one ends, and where the other begins?” –Edgar Allan Poe

Juniper Townsend died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the ripe, old age of 22.

However, death isn’t the end. In Limbo, she finds a foggy wasteland and strange creatures. She also discovers that during night hours, she can walk among the living. But there are rules. Never influence destiny. Never interfere, because the consequences are dire.

Will she sacrifice eternal freedom to save the innocent?

Recommendation: Love it!

Review:  This is one of the best novellas I have read in a long time. It’s quick (unfortunately too quick for me) and eerie and fun at the same time.

Juniper (the protagonist) along with all of the other characters were so real, I felt as if I knew them. From the moment the story starts, the author begins building a world that is both recognizable and bizarre.

A recently deceased Juniper wanders through this strange existence searching for answers and purpose. As she does, she encounters Cricket, but although Cricket appears harmless, is she really what she seems? Juniper also runs into a man named Gareth, who, while seemingly friendly, hangs around with jackals and has claws for hands.

While Juniper struggles to figure out not only where she is, but why she hasn’t moved on to whatever lies beyond death, she decides to attempt to interfere in the ‘real world.’ Her best friend is being abused by her boyfriend, so Juniper decides to intervene. However, things don’t work out exactly as planned. The more Juniper tries to interfere in the real world, the more trouble she creates for herself in the strange between-world in which she is trapped.

The world and characters that the author built are believable, exciting, and above all, relatable. In fact, they are so relatable that I wanted to jump in and help Juniper achieve her goals. That’s the kind of writing that makes a great story.

Unfortunately, the story ended much too soon, and I had to say goodbye to Juniper, Cricket, and everyone else in this marvelous land of the dead that Lea had created.

So, if you get a chance, grab a copy of What the Dead Fear (it’s free on Amazon) and read it through. You won’t be sorry.

About the author:  

Lea Ryan is the author of several books and stories. She writes about the strange and the dark, as well as the light and love and strives to immerse readers in vivid fictional worlds. She currently lives in Indiana with assorted family members and various pets.

Website and blog – https://authorlearyan.wordpress.com/
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