Thursday, August 26, 2010

Story Openings

As I plod my way to the finish line of a short story I began a month ago, I continue to struggle with its opening. I like the way the story is turning out: the characterization seems to be going well; the plot has offered many surprises, such as an unexpected discussion of race. In short, this story—like them all—is smarter than its author, and I’m enjoying the ride.

Yet the opening is troublesome, which has me reviewing my goal for it (and all beginnings): Typically I try to pose an explicit or implicit question. After that, I’m playing to grab the reader’s attention and introduce characters and the situation.

I get introduction envy often while reading. When I was writing BAD LIE, I read the first chapter of Ian Rankin’s LET IT BLEED (, tore up the opening I had for BAD LIE, and rewrote it.

Here are some of my all-time favorites:

Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”: “It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.”

James Crumley’s THE LAST GOOD KISS: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”

Michael Connelly’s CITY OF BONES: “The old lady changed her mind about dying but by then it had been too late. She dug her fingers into the paint and plaster of the nearby wall until most of her fingernails had broken off. Then she had gone for the neck, scrabbling to push the bloodied fingertips up and under the cord. She broke four toes kicking at the walls. She had tried so hard, shown such a desperate will to live, that it made Harry Bosch wonder what had happened before. Where was that determination and will and why had it deserted her until after she had put the extension cord noose around her neck and kicked over the chair? Why had it hidden from her?”

Not that it’s in the same class as the others, but this is what I eventually came up with for BAD LIE: “In an uncertain universe, my vocation offers a black-and-white world. On the PGA Tour, either your score is low enough or it is not. The ball is in the hole or it isn’t. You don’t argue called strikes. Instant replay won’t overrule decisions. In pro golf, results are final. So I trust my instincts and govern myself by the rules of the game. Unfortunately, life is rarely so straightforward.

On a Friday in late August, I was standing in the fairway on the par-four eighteenth at the Buick Championship, waiting for the group ahead of us to clear, when I spotted Nash Henley in the gallery.”

Back to my short story. Wish me luck!


peter_may said...

Comment from a neutral observer, John. If I were you I would drop the first para and open with your second - it very neatly tells us everything we need to know, and immediately opens the intrigue.

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