I wanted to put Holly’s comments on the front page for everyone to see because it was like a mini-blog. Thank you Holly! Please enjoy her thoughts on Openings:
My first piece of advice: check out the site I’ve linked below. It contains interviews from several agents regarding opening scenes, opening lines, and what to avoid. It has been a personal goldmine.
Yes, there are standard openings to steer clear of (dreams, waking, eating breakfast, riding in a car), but like others mentioned above, they can work well if done correctly. As far as I understand, most ‘waking up’ openings or others like it don’t work because they’re boring. We see the MC being all: ‘Oh, hum. My life is so dull. Now I get ready. Now I eat breakfast. Now I go to work/school.’
Mind-numbing, eh? You bet.
But imagine an MC waking up to find her stalker standing at the foot of her bed. Still boring? Hardly. I can feel my own stomach churning.
One time someone told me to revise meaning of “in media res” from ‘in action’ to ‘with tension’. Basically, start with tension and mystery and intrigue and uniqueness and voice all in the very first line. Don’t be boring. Showcase the most exceptional thing about your character and their situation right at the beginning. Even if that character isn’t aware of what’s special about them or their story, you can still hint at it in the first lines. “Three weeks ago, I never realized things would turn out like this, but then again, I never realized a lot of things about myself.”
Here’s the opening line to one of my favorites and my opinion on why it works:
Fight Club (the novel): “Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.”
The first half of the sentence is boring, but it’s so short and simple that we go straight to the second part of the sentence, about the gun and dying, and now it’s anything but dull. In a single sentence, the author has set up the following: the tone (dark and gritty), the theme (order vs. chaos), the relationship between Tyler and the MC (dominant and submissive), the POV (first person observer), the voice. Masterful!
The first half of the sentence is mundane and something we can relate to. Everyone knows someone who’s been a waiter. But the second half turns the mundane on its head. ‘Whoa, how did this guy go from being a waiter to having a gun shoved in his mouth?’ I’m intrigued, and eager to read on.
One last piece of advice: I’ve also learned that a unique reference to one of the underused senses helps to ground the reader inside the story. (It smelled like someone had sprayed my grandmother’s perfume over a puddle of cat piss). Yummy. Balance helps too. Too much description, action, dialogue or narration right at the beginning of the story can be a turnoff.