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Friday, October 16, 2009

CRAFT: Attention Grabbing Beginnings

As writers we hear about hooking your reader from the very first sentence. But what makes for a compelling read? What makes the beginning of a book a good one?
Is there a trick or particular secret to writing an attention-grabbing opening?
I’ve picked several opening scenes from books on my keeper shelf and, in the next few posts, I’d like to share what drew me in to each of them.
Let’s start with the opening scene from NIGHT PLAY by Sherrilyn Kenyon.
“I’m so sorry, Vane. I didn’t mean to get us killed like this.”
Vane Kattalakis ground his teeth as he fell back from trying to pull himself up. His arms ached from the strain of lifting two hundred pounds of lean muscle up by nothing more than the bones of his wrists. Every time he got close to raising his body up to the limb over his head, his brother started talking, which broke his concentration and caused him to fall back into his dangling position.
“Don’t worry, Fang. I’ll get us out of this.”
He hoped.

Wow. The hero in trouble from the outset; a life or death situation; edge of the seat stuff. And it began with a provocative line of dialogue. Active, immediate, tense, suspenseful.
What else happened when you read this? Did any questions spring to mind? They’re about to be killed? Why and by whom? Vane and Fang are certainly suffering. Why protract their deaths? Could it be for revenge? And why does Vane feel it’s his responsibility to get him and brother out of trouble? How’s he going to get them out of this situation? What’s going to happen next?
The tense situation compels you to read on and combines with the need for answers to these questions.

They were created, not born. They were trained, not raised. They weren’t meant to be free, to laugh, to play or to love. They were men and women whose souls had been forged in the fires of hell.
This brief excerpt comes from MEGAN’S MARK by Lora Leigh. The emotion that grabbed me from the start? Anticipation.
Look at the words used by the author that builds expectation and excitement from the first sentence – created, not born; trained, not raised; weren’t meant; souls; forged; fires of hell. Powerful, emotive words.
The structure of the sentences is also clever. Lora could have written – They weren’t born but created in a lab. Pretty boring statement. It’s much stronger flipping the words around - They were created, not born. That effect continues in the next sentence - They weren’t meant to be free, to laugh, to play or to love. She tells you what they weren’t meant to do rather than what they did do.
It made me want to know more – so, yep, I turned the page.

So, what captures your attention when you read a book? Post one of your favourite openings and let me know what worked for you.

I'll share some more of mine next week.


  1. Hi Kylie,
    Love your opening lines! One of my favourites is from Working with the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow. "My working relationship with Lucifer began on a rainy Monday..."
    Cheers, Bec

  2. Nice ones Kylie. Right now can't attack the bookshelves but good idea - helps us writers realise what we love about opening paragraphs and how they drag us in.

  3. Hey Bec,

    Thanks for poppping in and giving your opening line - I like how the author has used the words working relationship and Lucifer in one sentence. It certainly begs a few questions that need answers.

    Eleni- hope the house renovations? are going well. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Yes, thank goodness it's only part of the house - slow but steady progress. We will have a new lovely kitchen pantry at the end of it as well as a new storage area. :))