Welcome to another Top Five Deep Dive episode!
Today, we dive deep into creating a strong opening for your novel. Key takeaways:
Listen for all the important details!
Whether you're just starting your writing journey or are a seasoned author, there's something here for everyone.
Remember to subscribe and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform to stay updated with our latest episodes. Be sure to connect with us on social!
Support the show
Bookshop.org site for books mentioned in the episodes!
Support Writers With Wrinkles - become a subscriber
Support the show: make a one time donation!
Writers with Wrinkles Link Tree for more!
Hello, lovely listeners, authors, aspiring writers and everyone in between. Welcome to episode 53, a top five deep dive into how to create a strong opening for your novel.Lisa Schmid:
Yay, we cheer, yay, yay for strong openings. Today is Halloween. When we're recording this, lisa and I. Neither of us have acquired any candy to give out, so things are starting to feel a bit tense because soon little goblins and ghouls are going to knock on the door and be like oh, can we have some candy please? And we're going to be like, uh, no.Lisa Schmid:
No full disclosure. I do have candy, but I'm doing a book giveaway on a blog right now, today, and what I offered up was a copy of Oli Oxley and a bag of candy corn, because my jokes are corny, so I paired it. Just like that one. So I went there to look for candy corn. It's Halloween and it's all gone. Like everything, christmas candy is up and I just so I had to like wander around and find a bag of candy corn.Beth McMullen:
Did you get like the sad last one on the shelf where it looks a little bit draggled Like maybe somebody opened it and spit in it and stuff it's worse. I'm concerned that that I'm going to be going out in like an hour and trying to find candy and I'm just going to find his. Christmas trees. That's all that's out there. It's alarming.Lisa Schmid:
You'd think they do it. They do the big switchover at night, but they didn't and.Beth McMullen:
Halloween has gotten so huge. Like I had a huge bin of Halloween decorations and now that the kids are older and nobody cares, I'm like I'm not decorating for Halloween. So I put them up on Free Cycle and within about 10 seconds I had probably 50 people asking me for the decorations. Yeah, it's, it's amazing. It's amazing. I'm just too lazy. Clearly I'm too lazy. I don't even have candy yet.Lisa Schmid:
I know, oh well, well, and it's my son's birthday, so that's always it's always a special day around here, so that's a big day.Beth McMullen:
It is also the day before Nano Rhymo starts, and that's national novel writing month, where you're supposed to start November 1st and write a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month. Lisa and I are here to tell you that we're not participating this year.Lisa Schmid:
No, we failed last year in an epic way. And you know what? I don't know which is scarier Nano-Rymo or Halloween, and I'm-.Beth McMullen:
Oh, definitely, definitely the writing. I'm perfectly fine with Halloween. I just can't handle trying to write a whole novel in one month, especially because it's a month where you have like a big interruption for Thanksgiving and you've got kids off from school or home from college or whatever and it's just like the worst month. If it was like national right, a novel in I don't know February, I would. I might do it. Then February is the short month. Why would you say that I'm not gonna finish anyway? It doesn't matter if it's like the 28 days or 31 days, I'm still gonna fail. But to all of you out there who are doing it, best wishes.Lisa Schmid:
Good luck, we're rooting for you.Beth McMullen:
May you succeed beyond your wildest dreams.Lisa Schmid:
Okay, so this is, as I said, a deep dive into how to create a strong opening to your novel. The reason we wanted to do this episode is that back in September September 4th to be exact we had Agent Jennifer March-Solloway on, and among the many things she said that you should want to know, she talked about the importance of a strong opening and, specifically, a strong opening line, and she gave a couple of examples of ones that she loves. So if you didn't listen to that episode, it's episode 44. It dropped on September 4th. Go back and listen to it, but that's really the inspiration for us digging up five important things to creating a strong opening.Lisa Schmid:
Yeah, and so I agree she gave so many good tips and such wonderful advice and I think that's one that definitely, if you're out queering, having that strong opening especially when agents have so many submissions in their inbox it's something that's vitally important to have a really strong opening.Beth McMullen:
Yeah, it's just it's gonna get you. You know, otherwise you might just end up on the slush pile.Lisa Schmid:
But if your opening is really intriguing and they can't stop thinking about, it they might read your novel, and that's a good thing Before we jump into this is that don't be like me and get stuck on that line and then not finish writing your book. It's just Because you're rewriting the first line over and over again Right, and so just-.Beth McMullen:
Like a horror movie.Lisa Schmid:
Exactly. So just know that you can go back and change it Like because as you move through your story you will probably discover a better opening line. So don't get too hung up on it when you're drafting, but really try to come up with that good opening line or opening paragraph.Beth McMullen:
I would say and a lot of times I come up with my first line. You know, toward the end, Like I've written my first line but Like you said, it's not as good as it could be. After I've spent so much time with the book, You're suddenly like oh yeah, in fact today I was changing the first paragraph on a manuscript that I'm finishing up, and it's probably the 25th time I've changed it. I'll probably change it again, but yeah, that's good advice to keep in mind as we go through our five things.Lisa Schmid:
All right, I'm going to kick this off. So, number one start with action or intrigue. Begin with a scene that immediately draws the reader into the story, such as a moment of action, conflict, mystery or intrigue. Like with the manuscript I'm working on, I start right away with action. He is, I've got a kid who's obsessed with gaming and he's right in the middle of a game right as we open the story, and so that lets the readers know this is obviously a kid who's into gaming, so it's one of those things that's like, just pull them in right away.Beth McMullen:
I love dropping the reader right into the midstream of the action at the very get go, so that they are kind of swept away in the tide, and then a couple of paragraphs later, you can start filling stuff in.Lisa Schmid:
And that's what I did with this one, and I know people say you're not supposed to do it. But my first line in the book is a line of dialogue. I think it can work In this particular situation. He's in the middle of a video game and I think kids are going to recognize right away oh my gosh, she's in the middle of a video game. So you have to be careful with that, because I always hear people say don't start with dialogue. I think even Jennifer said that and I'm like I already did.Beth McMullen:
Of course, you know these rules like don't do this and don't do that are never hardened fast. You can bend them however you'd like for your particular story. Okay, number two. I like that number one. I want everybody to write that down right now before we go to number two. But here we are at number two. Introduce a relatable character. The same it's kind of the same idea as number one, where you are putting kind of your best foot forward. So feature that compelling or relatable character in your opening so that your audience is emotionally connected and that now they want to know what happens, because they care about this person for whatever reason. And I've seen this done really well in a number of ways, and sometimes it's just putting the person into an awkward situation or an uncomfortable situation and showing how they react, because sometimes that's funny or it makes the person feel, okay, this is not. You know, this is a regular person who's having stresses in their lives.Lisa Schmid:
I can relate to that, I'm interested in that, yeah, even if it's just that quick moment, you can still give an inkling of who that character is by the way they react to something, externally or internally, I mean it just. You can get a glimpse into who this character is right away if you do it right.Beth McMullen:
And I think that it's actually a good advice maybe to come back to that after you've spent an entire novel with this character, because you might be able to tighten that up or just make it better, because you know this character better and so you can pick that one little thing that's going to make the reader just stick like glue to your story.Lisa Schmid:
Okay, number three pose questions or create conflict. Engage your readers by raising questions or presenting conflicts that demand resolution, compelling them to read on and I know this sounds like a big ask in that, you know, opening of a story, but it really is something you just kind of have to find a way to like, pack all this in to the beginning, just whatever you know, whatever conflict, there's got to be something that gets them to want to keep moving forward. If there's no, if these questions aren't in there or the action, it just it can be mundane reading it, like you're waiting to get to the punch, and a lot of times I will have to discard the first chapter. I am notorious for that. I will give it to Catherine, my critique partner, and she's like dump the first chapter. And so that is what always happens to me. So it's a lot of times, don't, you know, don't get too conflicted if it doesn't sound perfect. Right now I've seen a lot of manuscripts where there's backstory in the first chapter instead of just jumping right into the to the story. So give yourself some some grace with that and, just you know, revisit it later on. But again, like I said, I, on both my books and my chapter book. I dumped the first chapter.Beth McMullen:
I think you said something super important, and that is do not put your backstory in your first chapter. That conflicts with everything we've said, which is start with action or intrigue. Introduce your relatable character, post questions and create conflict. None of that is going to happen with backstories. It's like the kiss of death. You have to work it in later. It is necessary in some cases, but also not the most exciting part of your book. So be sure to heed that advice. You can also say you have a really short opening, first chapter. You can just end it on a cliffhanger like some big question that is hanging out there that your readers are going to be compelled by enough to turn the page. So I mean you can do that as an option too, for that that's not the first line, but it is the beginning. It's the first chapter, so that's another thing you can try to do. Number four use vivid description and sensory detail. This is just a given, I think, but we wanted to call it out because you are trying to do so many things in this opening. Don't forget to pick really compelling descriptive language. Make every word count. You don't want to overload it with flowery details, because people get bogged down in that, but try to engage the reader's senses in a very tight way. So pick all your descriptors and your details very carefully. Make sure they matter to the scene that you're trying to portray, because you need to grab the reader right away at this point.Lisa Schmid:
Absolutely. Less is more. It's one of those things that literally every word counts and every word should be driving that story forward.Beth McMullen:
Yeah, I just was working with somebody. This is a high school student who's writing essays for his college application. One of the questions he had 250 words, which is really nothing. All of these things that we were talking about I was using with him. So getting him to put the reader right in the moment, with him talking about himself as the relatable character, because it is a personal statement type of thing. What internal conflicts is he trying to address in the scene? Also, like those descriptive words, what are you picking because you only have 250 words? You have to be really careful what you choose so you don't go over your limit with wasted words.Lisa Schmid:
All right. Number five this is my favorite. We saved the best for last Craft an engaging first line, make your first sense memorable, thought provoking or intriguing, to capture the reader's attention and set the tone for your novel. So true.Beth McMullen:
So true, it is so true.Lisa Schmid:
Well, in full disclosure I'm not the master at this, I'm not super great at it, and I will reference back to this in a second, but I just I have a hard time creating that magical first line and I would get obsessed with it. So I kind of try to bank at the first paragraph, which is probably not great, but I I have a really hard time.Beth McMullen:
I think that for most writers, the very first to make it just one line is really hard, right, I think, if you're going to expand it and give yourself a little bit more bandwidth and do an opening paragraph, that has the same bang for your buck, as long as you're paying attention to all of the things that we're talking about here. So you're you're not using the extra space to just, you know, babble on incessantly, but you're being tight and you're. You're putting the putting the reader in the action and you're offering details that are sharp. That's the the most important thing, and if that takes you three lines, then it takes you three lines, you know yes, and that's.Lisa Schmid:
I really wanted to bring that up because it just you can get obsessed with it. And one of the things I, years ago when I went to la s cb wi, I went to one of those breakout sessions and it was molly burnham and she's hysterical like just a really wonderful funny writer. She had just one, I think it was the sid fleishman award for, like, yes, for humor.Beth McMullen:
I know I'm middle grade.Lisa Schmid:
She just like. Well, I love her so much and the first line of her book, teddy mars, almost a world breaker, is probably the most memorable line of any book I've ever read, because I found it so amusing and I had bought the book at the conference and then I took it on the plane and I was reading it on the plane and I very I remember very distinctly laughing out loud when I read the first line and I can quote it back to anyone because it's just to me it's such a memorable first line. So but my point is like I got so hung up on that that I always try to recreate like a memorable first line and I could never do it. So this is the first line of her book, teddy mars, almost a world record breaker. The day my brother climes Sorry we're never gonna get through this.Beth McMullen:
Hang on, folks, gonna be a few minutes okay, okay.Lisa Schmid:
It's so funny, it's so funny okay. The day my brother climbed into the cat box was the day I knew my life would never be normal again.Beth McMullen:
It's so funny you can totally imagine it in your mind's eye and it's funny.Lisa Schmid:
That is a good, oh my god. And it just her whole book is funny and it's that same kind of humor and honestly it ruined me, like I'll never come up with something. Fox live, oh, it's so funny, like I, it's the one, like I know there's like brilliant first lines out there, but this is the one I always remember because it just was so funny.Beth McMullen:
Well, and it's. It does everything that you know, most of the things that we've just talked about, because it's there's action there. It's absurd, it's introducing you to the tone there's gonna be conflict. He's saying his life is never gonna be normal again and he knew it. The obviously vivid description and sensory detail and it's relatable. I mean it's like oh, the little brother, the, you know, he's a pay, all of those things. She's doing it exactly as we've suggested.Lisa Schmid:
It's a brilliant example it's perfection, and so kudos to tamale she just, I just love this, love this opening line, and it's one of my favorite books.Beth McMullen:
All right, I have an opening line for you to. It's from the go, the novel pacenco, which is a mingin Lee, and the line is history has failed us, but no matter. That's it. It's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven words History has failed us, but no matter. I think it encapsulates everything in the book and the idea that history is written by the victors. Right, and it has failed her and her family, but it doesn't matter, things are still going to go on. You can't escape it. History has you and you cannot escape it. I just thought, like for conciseness and kind of hitting you over the head. I just I remember when I read the book, I read that line like 10 times and I was like wait a minute, oh, my God, this is a good one. And so it just stuck, stuck with me forever. So those are two good examples of how you can use the five things we just talked about to craft a amazing first line or first paragraph and hopefully get that agent that you want to sign you to keep reading, okay. So I think we've set you up pretty well to go and do this. If you want to share your first lines with us, please do. All of our contact information is in the podcast notes, and that is all our brilliant advice for today's episode, and we'll be back next week with author Erica Lewis, who is a pro at telling stories set in magical places, and I think she'll have a lot to teach us. So please join us for that episode. Until then, happy reading, writing and listening. Bye Lisa, bye guys.