Craft Corner: Writing Strong Openings

Welcome to the Class of 2k21 Craft Corner! These posts will be dedicated to sharing writing tips and tricks we’ve picked up on our journeys to publication. Each month features a new theme with insights from members of the Class of 2k21; this month, we’re discussing writing strong openings.

Whether you are a long-time creative with too many ideas to wrangle or a beginner with no idea where to start, we hope you’ll find something you can apply to your writing journey. Let’s get started!

Jessica Vitalis: Earlier in my writing career, I was lucky enough to share a first chapter of a work-in-progress with bestselling author Chris Grabenstein. After reading my (exceptionally dull) first chapter, he pointed out that our first responsibility as writers is to entertain our audience. This doesn’t mean we have to make them laugh, but it does mean we have to capture their attention––give them a reason to feel that their time reading our stories will be well-spent. One of the most compelling ways to do this is to establish tension in your story, preferably from the very first sentence. Consider the opening of my debut, The Wolf’s Curse: I’d rather you walk away now. Hopefully, when you read this sentence, you asked yourself a series of questions. Who is this “I” that is speaking? Why should I walk away? Is something bad going to happen? By creating questions in the readers’ minds, we build tension and invite them to engage in our stories––an important step in creating a strong opening.

Anuradha Rajurkar: I can be an impatient reader, so I appreciate those stories that hook me from the very first sentence. That sentence ideally sets the tone for the whole novel, giving the reader a sense of the themes in the story. The opening line from my debut, American Betiya, is “He’s my mother’s worst nightmare.” This line reflects lots of built-in mother-daughter tension. It also hints at a common trope used in the story--forbidden love--which helps with accessibility in those critical early pages, when you want to orient and hook the reader--fast! :)

Payal Doshi: Echoing what Jessica and Anuradha have said, strong openings should hook the reader in terms of peeking their interest, intriguing them about what’s to come, or perhaps even shocking them. If you can do that in one sentence, that’s great! Sometimes, it can take the first paragraph to set the scene. My biggest piece of advice for writing the opening is to make it ‘active’ and not necessarily in an ‘action taking place’ which it can be, but also in a way that can be an assertive opinion or fact or a description of a strange surrounding or a situation. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar opens with, "Rea wiggled through her bathroom window and landed on the floor with a thud. She’d been spying on Rohan after school, trying to glean details about a game of cricket he had organized. A game to celebrate his birthday, but not hers. His own twin sister’s."As with your chapters, read your opening aloud and see if you can feel that punch, urgency, assertiveness, or action that would capture a reader’s imagination.

Thanks for joining us! Craft Corner will be back in August with thoughts on avoiding saggy middles. See you then!