Monday, August 4, 2014

Getting your tale started

As a writer one of the things we all need to do is find that opening to our tales that drags the reader in and makes them read what we have so lovingly written. A story that starts off slowly might work in some genres but in those of us who are writing in the genres of fantasy, science fiction and horror really need that hook.

Now I admit dumping a reader into an intense action sequence can be jarring if not done right. So there is a fine balancing act going on. As a writer of mostly short fiction, I tend to go for the hook, the punch early and then let the tale tell itself, but now that I am doing longer tales I need to have the action move up and down.

While in the genres of mystery and romance, you can start out with introspection but in fantasy or science fiction you need that tension. For example I can give you some of my opening pages.

Here in Endings, the first book of my Saga of Loralil Greyfox I have the action off stage so to speak but it is there:

Screams of terror and betrayal filled the clearing. Blood flowed as the vicious invaders looked for their prey. They weren't here, but the sounds from below should bring them forth. Death was not quiet on this afternoon

Once the noise from the attack reached up the hill to the smithy, the Blade master looked up. He was tall for these small folk. He came to a height of 5'6". Tall for an elf. He had blue black hair tied back in a club. His eyes were a deep purple, odd for a surface dwelling elf. He had massive muscles from years of smithing. He grabbed up the nearest weapon, a sword he made years ago for a king who did not live to collect his custom job. A flame brand. He yelled back to the open door of his home, "Silvershine! Greyfox! Come out here!"

"What is it, Stoneblade?" Asked his wife as she came out of the house. She was a beautiful woman. Long silver hair pulled back into a myriad of tiny braids. She was slender and graceful. She had kept a fine figure after the birth of her child and the following years of settled life. She was a foot shorter than her husband and had a voice that would make birds stop singing in envy.

"The village is under attack," Stoneblade replied quickly has he turned to intercept his child as she tried to fly past him. "Stop right there! Greyfox, you must go to the hiding place."

"Father! No! I want to help!"


As you can see I put action in the very first page of this novella length tale. It hooks in the reader (or so I am told) and makes them want to read more. This is a good thing for any writer.

When you move into a second book, you don't need to have as strong a hook to get the reader. If you have hooked them properly then your second tale in the series can have a less action oriented opening, as I have here in Revenge, the second in the Loralil books:

Travel during the winter was always hard; it was even harder for Loralil.  She was leaving the only home she had known; she had spent the last two years living with her uncle, her mother's brother.  He had tried his best to make Loralil feel welcome and it wasn't his fault that she was leaving.  It wasn't his fault that the people of his home clan could not accept her.  She had very few of the mannerisms expected of an Elven maiden.  She tried to fit in but she just couldn't.  The prejudice of the people against anything non-Elven was too much to deal with.  They felt that anything or anyone not Elven was beneath notice.  Never mind that Loralil had spent thirty years in human hands, she was an elf and was expected to act like an Elven maiden of her years; with all the training and knowledge that an Elven maiden of her years normally would have.  The clan elders knew her history and tried to ease her way but many just didn't care.

Her parents had been rebels in the eyes of many here.  Her mother had left to train in a human run bardic college not staying and learning from the bards at home.  She had then gone on to adventure in the outside world, instead of coming home to care for her family's businesses.  She had the audacity of meeting and then she marrying outside her clan's wishes to a different race of elf, to an elf that worked for a human monarch.  And worse yet she decided to settle down with a third race of elves away from the clan and raise her family there.  


A more relaxed opening than what I had with the first tale, correct? In my opinion Revenge is a better book, but that is because I had learned a lot in the years between writing the two tales.

Now those are of course both fantasy books. As a fantasy writer I generally know how to get my fantasy tales moving from the very beginning but switching genres can make it a bit harder to pull off.  In this, the opening to Escape, I once more track back to the intense action opening.:

Caro ran down the corridor ahead of the Sweepers. Throwing a look back at each bend in the way, she managed to stay just out of their view. Dodging between the shoppers, under the long scraps of material that heralded what each tiny, hole in the wall shop specialized in, she moved from one tiny space to another with all the agility of a child. The Sweepers were once more rounding up the young and masterless and it was clear they needed new females, females to breed up new warriors and to slave for the Masters. Caro refused to follow in her sister dancers footsteps, refused to be made a slave again. She needed to get off this station, onto a ship headed to a free world. A few more twists and turns down tunnels that echoed with the mix of languages that made up the natives of the station. Cries of warning and of complaint mixed with the patios of commerce. She leapt high over a cart that had spilled in the middle of her path, briefly amazing those watching as she seemed to fly. She flashed a tight grin and waved as she landed, a quick pirouette that she could not stop herself from doing. She rolled her eyes at her action and dashed off once more. A few more twisting turns and she came to the concourse. Slowing, she eeled her way into the crowd. Her size helped her blend into the crowd, but she stood out for her ethnicity. Where most of those who lived and worked on this station were small with black hair and blacker eyes, she had a different shape to her face, her eyes large and round compared to the almond shape of those bred to this station. She was dressed in her silks, a bright flash of color among a sea of black tunics and pants. A cardinal that stood out surrounded as she was by crows. She had to find Adam. Only with him did she feel safe from the Sweepers.

 Once more I have pulled out that action sequence to pull the reader into the first book of a series. By making the first character the heroine, I give readers (at least the female ones) someone to sympathize with and hopefully make them want to know just what she is running from and why.

Switching genres, sort of, I have Fall Into Nightmares. This post-apocalyptic novel has more the tension from something other than action. While I did include a lot of action in the first of the Chaos War series, this book started with a more dramatic, emotional opening (IMO):

"You will change the world, my love. Your agony will set me free!"

Jeffrey woke with a start, his eyes darted about the darkened room searching for the source of the voice that filled his head but there was nothing and no one there. After a few minutes, his breathing calmed down and he whispered. "Just a dream, nothing more."

"Hmm?" came a soft, muffled murmur at his side. He looked down with a soft smile for the woman who shared his bed. Reaching out he lightly brushed a lock of black hair from her cheek.

"Nothing love, go back to sleep." He moved closer to the girl, wrapping an arm around her and drifted back to sleep. Just as he fell back over into dreams, he heard soft and evil laughter.


Using a dream for an opening can be very powerful if done well. If you are looking to do a horror story or a fantasy with heavy horror elements, you can can use this type of opening easily.

So as a writer you have to decide. Do you do an intense action piece for your opening page, a dream or something simple like this piece from The Traveler, my fantasy novel

Riding through the storm, Edana sighed as the shelter finally came in sight.  She had been riding for hours in the massive storm.  The crash of the thunder had become just background noise to her.  As her horse stumbled to a halt, she pulled her mind together and with great effort looked around.  They had stopped in front of the first travel shelter she had seen in days.  It was one of a series of small buildings scattered along the old grand highway or should have been.  Most had been left to the elements, falling to ruins that had barely a single wall to set a tent against. With an effort of will she unclasped the hand holding the reins, her fingers were white from the cold.  She pushed back her heavy, wet hair with a shaking hand and sighed wearily.  "This is a good enough place.  Time to rest."


 Each tale of course has its own flavor and style but do your best to not make that opening page boring.  If you do you will find the readers will be few and far between.

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