Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tip O'Day #216 - How to Begin

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.”


  1. Great post, Gary. I love great opening lines that immediately hook you with a question. Chuck Pahlaniuk's book, RANT, for example, starts this way: Like most people, I didn't meet and talk to Rant Casey until after he was dead.

    When a single sentence contains so much information, and creates so many intriguing questions, you can't help but keep reading.

  2. GREAT POST! I personally would not pick up a book that I would not lay down until it is finished.

    Writer's have to do the same. They have to hook the publisher or agent into wanting to read more about them.

  3. Great post !! As a new writer I realized the odds of having a book published in Canada was slim... almost impossible... I did three important things 1) trained my creative mind by scheduling my time everyday in front of the computer for a set length of time no matter what.. If I couldn't write, I did research, or promotions... Now when I sit down at that special time my mind is focused 2) submitted to free papers, free magazines, letters to the editor etc. I built a writing platform... publishers want to make money and you need to show them they can do that with you 3) Joined writing associations and went to their meetings: associations have websites and they post their members profile and photo on the websites... 6 of my books were commissioned by publishers that found me on an association website... Most importantly believe in yourself and dream big! You may not have all those dreams realized but the trip will be worth it.... Cynthia Faryon, Author of 9 books and counting