Friday, April 12, 2019

The Right Opening

Congratulations to "Patricia B.", the winner in Joanne's giveaway. Please contact JUST ROMANTIC SUSPENSE to claim your prize.

Have you ever experienced the tyranny of the blank page?

If you’re nodding in agreement, you are in good company. In fact, I believe every writer—from beginner to published—has experienced those feelings of doubt and apprehension, especially at the start of a new manuscript. That’s when gremlin thoughts are most powerful.
In this post, I will offer several suggestions on how to squash those gremlins and start writing the first page of your next manuscript.

First, I will dispel three popular rules:

Rule #1–Start with a bang

Some writers believe the first page needs drama: a passionate argument between two people or a man running out of a burning house. One problem: the reader is not yet invested in the characters. The two people arguing could be murderers, and the man running out of the burning house could be a burglar. The reader needs to know more about the characters and their motivations before the drama occurs.

Rule #2—Start at the beginning

You can use a prologue to cut forward to later events or recall much earlier events. A three- to five-page prologue that introduces the crime or dead body can whet the reader’s appetite for more details. This works well with mysteries and thrillers.

Rule #3—Never start with dialogue

Used effectively, dialogue can establish the writer’s or protagonist’s voice. This will quickly draw the reader into the writer’s world
So, what should the “right opening” accomplish?
Very simply, the first sentence needs to draw the reader’s attention to the next sentence and the rest of the first paragraph. And so on. That first sentence does not have to be loud or flashy…only intriguing.

“Intriguing” examples:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984 by George Orwell.
“They shoot the white girl first.” Paradise by Toni Morrison
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
 “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.” Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
If you’re struggling with “intriguing,” start with a simple sentence, and use the rest of the paragraph to follow up with details.

Examples of the “Simple” Approach:

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
 “We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.” The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
“Nothing happens the way you plan it.” The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
“When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Hard-to-read and grammatically incorrect sentences can turn off readers, agents, and publishers.  But sometimes they work!  

Examples of the “Breaking the Rules and Getting Away with It” approach:

“You better not never tell nobody but God.” The Color Purple by Alice Walker
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

More tips…

Think of opening lines and paragraphs as introductions to new people. You probably wouldn’t be interested in getting to know a person who immediately launches into a monologue about her divorce, her latest car accident, or upcoming surgery. Instead, you want to learn just enough about the person so that you can have a pleasant conversation.
Gently lead the reader into the rest of the paragraph and the next page. The reader doesn’t have to fall in love with that first sentence, but she needs to be curious enough to keep reading.
Leave the reader with unanswered questions. She should be asking the question “Why” as she reads that first chapter. Why did those characters fall in love? Why did that murder happen?
Introduce character goals and motivations early. This creates a sense of direction that guides the reader through the novel.
Reread your favorite novels and critically analyze the opening sentences and paragraphs. Ask yourself what intrigued you as a reader and then apply the same approach to your own writing.
Keep in mind that the first chapter of a novel is the most heavily revised section of the book. You don’t have to get it right the first time.

Overview of the Gilda Greco Mystery Series

A cross between Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, and Cher (Moonstruck), Gilda Greco brings a unique perspective to the amateur female sleuth. 

The teacher-turned-lottery winner returns to her hometown, only to find herself embroiled in a series of murder investigations. Before you start imaging thrillers with high stakes and police chases, pause and take a yoga breath. The three novels in the series—A Season for Killing Blondes, Too Many Women in the Room, A Different Kind of Reunion—are cozy mysteries, written in the Agatha Christie tradition. All the crimes take place “off stage” with very few graphic details provided. 

While the pace may be more relaxed than that of thrillers and police procedurals, there are no steaming cups of herbal teas, overstuffed chairs, or purring cats in these contemporary cozies. Prepare yourself for interfering relatives who don’t always respect boundaries, adult mean girls, deserving and undeserving men, multiple suspects, and lots of Italian food.

A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne Guidoccio writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romance, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.

Joanne is giving away a Kindle edition of A Season for Killing Blondes to one lucky reader posting a comment.

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST April 13th. Due to GDPR regulations you no longer need to submit your email address in the comments. If you have been selected as a winner your name will be posted at the top of the post. You may then contact to claim your prize. Your email address will be shared with the author/publicist providing the giveaway. 


  1. For me, a good first line is one of the best things to draw me into a book. "They meant to kill him." from HONOR'S SPLENDOUR, "They became friends before they were old enough to understand they were supposed to hate each other." from THE SECRET, "They found her in the trash. Luck was on the boy's side; the rats hadn't gotten to her yet." FOR THE ROSES - all by Julie Garwood. They get your attention and draw you in right from the start. Of course there needs to be a good story to follow, but a good start has you expecting just that.
    Thank you for an interesting post. Patricia Barraclough

  2. Excellent examples! Thanks for sharing, Patricia :)

  3. Thank you so much for selecting my name for this book.

    1. You're very welcome, Patricia. Happy reading! :)


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