Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Mysterious Opening

I like a certain pattern of story that begins with an incomprehensible inciting incident, then the rest of the story consists of disclosing clues the reader can use to figure out what happened. Because this requires patience of the reader, the writer must make the incomprehensible thing particularly compelling. It has to be life-or-death.

What was with that opening scene with the fire? Why is the girl running from the police?

Two stories come to mind with this structure: Get Low, and Safe Haven. And the television series Longmire does this somewhat, too.

As the story proceeds you can either leave that opening scene alone completely or you can provide a series of cut-scenes that provide clues. If you take this approach, you can use ambiguity to good effect.

Safe Haven opens with a hooded figure fleeing an apparent murder scene and making her way out of town with a policeman in Javert-mode is in hot pursuit. Facts come out in a way that at first confirm the reader's supposition that the girl has committed murder.

This provides a bit of tension that keeps the story a bit more interesting over the course of introducing the other elements of the story as the girl meets a widower and unpacks her emotional baggage.

Similarly, in Get Low, a house bursts into flame and a shadowy figure is seen fleeing the scene. What's with that? In a subsequent scene, Robert Duvall who plays a notorious hermit meets with Lucas Black and Bill Murray to arrange his own funeral.

Food, sex, and death. These are three obvious hooks you can put in an opening to pique the reader's interest. And once you have that interest, it's incumbent upon the storyteller to make the reader care about your characters. With your readers caring about your characters you can tell your story and disclose what that incomprehensible incident means.

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