Guest blogger Gary Ponzo on starting your story.
There was a time when people would ride their horse for days to travel a hundred miles. A trip to China and back could take months. Back then writers could take 3-4 chapters to develop their characters, revealing their idiosyncrasies, their flaws, their motives. Those days are long gone. Our lifestyle has changed so much, waiting for a light to turn green could easily mutate into road rage. While Twitter, Facebook and texting have caused our attention spans to shorten, our children's brains are actually being developed to handle the fast pace.
So readers no longer have the patience for long introductions. Certain literary fiction might have some immunity to the modern, frantic pace, but if you're writing any type of commercial fiction, you'd better upload the tension.
How do you do it? With great care - not tricks or gimmicks like the protagonist waking from a nightmare as he's about to be slaughtered. What will work, however, is anything with tension. And I don't mean it has to be a freight train bearing down on our hero. It could be as simple as a missed phone call the protagonist desperately wanted to hear. Use intrigue to lead us to the next line, then make sure the next line leads us into more questions. Resist the temptation to answer everything too fast. That's what keeps the reader reading.
Lee Child's first Jack Reacher novel, KILLING FLOOR, began with "I was arrested in Eno's Diner." Of course it begs the question, why was he arrested? Why does he seem so casual about it? My favorite opening line came from an old Jules Shear song, "I've never seen the weapon, but I know the prints are mine." Isn't that a great opening? I've tried for years to use that line, but never found the story to go with it. Maybe I never will. But one thing is for sure, I'll probably never open with something that doesn't cause the reader to ask, "Why is she in that predicament?"
Hopefully, neither will you.
BTW, here’s the opening line from Gary’s second novel, A TOUCH OF REVENGE: “The bullet left the sniper’s rifle at 3,000 feet per second.”