Twofer – Part 2

I’m still running with that gag. You may be able to catch me, but you can’t stop me.

Reading back through last week’s post, I realized I barely talked about openings, other than the War of Art. For a series called Noob Notes, that’s not terribly helpful, so I’m coming back around to it today.

Openings are easy. Every time you start a project, you craft an opening. Once Upon a Time is a classic, though seldom used in the current market. Dark and stormy nights notwithstanding, one can often get away with a touch of purple. Not full-on Roman royal, but maybe some pastel lavender.

The trick is-

Let me back up: the trick is just to start. Realistically, your first opener is unlikely to be any great shakes, but the important thing is to haul out the pick, get down into the word mine, and toss some nuggets on the page. I’m not sure I can stress that enough. Put words on page; fix them in post. Or just assume you’re going to toss them, along the lines of a mental loss leader. “Sure, I wrote a sentence (paragraph, page, chapter) but that was just priming the pump, so to speak. I’ll come up with something better once I know what’s going on.”

Now, admittedly, that last is more in line with a discovery writer’s approach. An outliner would have a different justification.

Oh, NB: do this for the start of each day’s writing. Especially if you have a tendency to stare at the screen, dreading putting fingers to keys or pen to paper, having to come up with something good to add to what you’re pretty sure isn’t any good anyway. Start with the assumption that your first bit is likely to get edited out, but just up until you get into your normal flow. Then get to it.

Now, to crafting a decent opening. In looking into what other people think, I found a lot. And a lot of it was … not amazingly helpful. The most important thing an opening should do is grab the reader’s attention. In a lot of ways, it’s a piece of advertising copy. I’ve harped before on Larry’s hook for Monster Hunter Int’l. Go check it out, if you haven’t. I’ll wait.

Now, Larry does something akin to what a comic does. The first sentence is somewhat prosaic, but offers the reader a story. The second sentence twists reality to demonstrate exactly what kind of story it’s going to be. Without giving away specifics. Horror stories do this, too. Consider It. Child is playing in the gutter with a paper boat, boat floats down, down, down, into a storm drain. And up pops a clown. In the storm drain. And all the while, subtle cues are suggesting this is Not a Good Thing. And then the twist demonstrates exactly what kind of story It is going to be.

So do that. And practice at it. Do one before you get to your writing each day. Do one here in the comments. Mumble them under your breath on the way to work, or while waiting to get the kids at school, or in the drive through for your overpriced coffee-like sugar beverage. But work on those openings.


  1. S. Pressfield has a lot to say on this. I’ll distill it for you. Thank me later. WRITE. I don’t give a wombat’s boo-toxx how rarefied your wordsmithing skills are, if they’re all in your head. You’ll go to your grave with great works unpenned. Want THAT to happen? I am terrified I’ll expire before all these books in me get out.

    1. Would I know a wombat’s boo-toxx if I saw one? Could I go up to a wombat and say, “have you got a boo-toxx?” only to have her reply, “I’m a marsupial, dammit!”

      1. The first comment was my message; the second one was to ensure I got notifications of followups. 🙂 I would invent a good lie if I had one in stock, but I been out since my last talk with the IRS.

  2. I stood outside watching the sunset, while satellites kept burning up in the atmosphere like lightning bugs. It seems that the Aliens were really busy tonight…

  3. It was during the awkward middle period of post-breakup life, when one’s friends have stopped saying how sorry they are that things didn’t work out but haven’t yet started saying that it’s time to start dating again that the dead girl began speaking to Charles in dreams, warm moist promises delivered in the darkness from worm-ravaged lips.

  4. At least Tay waited until the customers left before bursting into laughter so wild that he rolled off the counter. The ring-tailed lemur landed on the anti-fatigue mat with a soft thump, releasing a puff of fur, and giggled a little longer.

  5. Well, a body at the Middle School Science Fair was not in my original plan of life. In fact, since I am one of the Lower School teachers it’s not obvious why I would have to be at a Middle School event at all. But I owed my sanity or the Science teacher, Mrs. McLaren, so when she needed a tally helper, I volunteered. For better or worse.

  6. There was a sudden detonation of a charge and the bulkhead collapsed inward, and the Marines stepped through before the explosion was even really over. On point was a Captain, full body combat ‘borg, two meters of metal, alloys, and composites and mounting enough weapons to account for a squad himself. His shoulder-mounted weapon spun and popped gauss rounds into armed targets and tazer rounds into the unarmed. The two Marines behind him wore much more common boarding armor, powered suits that only added a few centimeters to their height and just didn’t catch the eye as much as the Captain. A few rounds from the rebel miners bounced off the captain without even scratching his molecular-bonded paint.

    1. (For anyone asking, this is a prose rewrite of page one of a script i wrote… um… 18 years or so ago.)

  7. Raina stepped out of the starport’s terminal, hoping for bright blue skies and uncanned air, and found a crowd pushing and shoving back toward the doors, against the flow of outbound travelers. Humid air hit her like the wall of jostling unhappy humanity, full of panic, screaming, and an acrid stench that tore at her mouth and nose. Something was burning that shouldn’t be, and nearby. The bus glass shelter with its advertisements of sun-drenched shores shattered, and her lungs choked up as every muscle tensed to flee the chaos.

  8. The young girl who handed me that poppy last Remembrance Day gave me a sad, haunting smile as I thanked her. As I held it in front of me, the poppy burst into red and violet flames, which danced up the sleeves of my overcoat without doing any damage. Startled, I looked for the girl, but she was gone.

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