Thursday, January 26, 2012

Open with a Bang


Have you ever noticed that the best storytellers always open their novels with a bang? And I'm not talking about the usual -- car accidents, gun shots, fist fights or breakups. I'm talking about an opening where such a provocative decision is made that you can't help but want to read on.

One of the best examples I've read is in Janice Y. K. Lee's THE PIANO TEACHER. I wish I could just type the entire first paragraph into this post, but ... I won't. I'll just tell you that the main character fascinated me from the very beginning because of one intriguing decision.

Basically:

She's working as a piano teacher for a very rich Hong Kong family. A figurine falls into her purse accidentally while she's teaching the lesson and she leaves the house with it. When she later discovers what she's done, instead of taking it back to the owner, she ... buries the figurine in her drawer.

Why?

I was so curious. Not only about the main character and her rather surprising decision to hide the figurine, but about the other characters, too. What is it about them that the main character couldn't (or wouldn't or shouldn't) give the figurine back? What was she afraid of? There were so many possibilities.....

And, let me tell you, the reason she did this was not one I expected. Which is another mark of a great storyteller, I think.

Can you name some book openings that fascinated you?
If you're a writer, do you examine your characters' early decisions and find ways of making them more provocative?

THE PIANO TEACHER from Barnes & Noble.
THE PIANO TEACHER from Amazon.
THE PIANO TEACHER from The Book Depository.
Click >>here<< for the Goodreads description.

19 comments:

  1. I have been really looking at opening sentences and first pages as I read. Many are incredibly intriguing - but some are quite ho hum. Then ones that don't stand out from page 1 .. I then check out how they grab me in the first chapter.
    Yes, it's great to analyse.
    The Sky is Everyhwere by Jandy Nelson - opened with a huge bang.

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  2. Brian Ferrey's WITH OR WITHOUT YOU. He opens with the two main characters being beaten to a bloody pulp. Nuts but so riveting.

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  3. Sounds very intriguing! I open my ms with my main character making a curious decision, but then I explain it right away because I didn't want to confuse anyone... Maybe I need to reconsider...

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  4. I'm starting to think that the best stories all have a mystery underneath ... the human mystery (why would s/he do that?)

    Those opening chapters are tough. I'm good at writing them, but goodness, I give away the ending all too soon (that's probably why I write short stories ... LOL). It's just about killing me not to spill the beans in my novel. But I'm trying to be good, revealing the secret near the end.

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  5. Oh, love this idea. This makes me think I need to rewrite my recently written first chapter with a little more mystery! However, I think everyone has different styles and my MCs are pretty forthcoming about things...still love this thought. I can't think of a book like that off-hand, but I know I've read some!

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  6. Gorgeous cover & most certainly a book I'd like to check out!
    ~ Wendy

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  7. Whenever I wake up in the morning, I start with a car chase.
    Sincerely,
    First Sentence

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  8. Sounds interesting! I rewrite the beginning of my books at least five times before finding one I really like. That doesn't mean it couldn't be better--it definitely could--but one thing I really like to do is start in media res. That way you're curious about what caused what's going on and what's going to happen next.

    PARANORMALCY I think accomplishes this very well. I've heard SUPERNATURALLY does too, though I haven't read it yet.

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  9. I love this book! I heard her read in Chicago and she chose the scene where Trudy and Will meet at that party. Now I want to re-read it!!

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  10. This sounds like a great book. I think I might have to read it.

    Thanks!

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  11. Okay, I think I need to read this too!

    Some story tellers are just good like that. One author I enjoy for his ability to draw in his readers is Andrew Clements, a middle grade author. His work isn't literary, but it's engaging.He does a great job of showing two sides to a story, yet still make you feel the hate/bad feelings toward the other. And he does this right from the beginning.

    Okay, this probably isn't exactly what you meant, but it's what popped into my head. :)

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  12. Hmmm, starting with a decision. I like that!

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  13. I've been working on the opening of my new book, so the timing of this post is great! Thanks! :)

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  14. Now I want to read this, too!

    THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex was the last book that really grabbed me on page one. There's mystery about what exactly is going on, but comedy as well, so I knew I'd love the tone and want to stick with it even if things didn't get explained for a while.

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  15. Ooh, this book sounds interesting.

    I like how it's not a big bang, but there seems to be a lot if internal conflict.

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  16. I'll have to check this book out! What a great reminder for writers too, to make sure our first page sucks readers in. Simultaneously makes me excited and scared of my revisions coming up soon!! EEEK!

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  17. Hi Amy .. what a great introduction to the story .. and I too want to read it! Certainly intriguing .. and the cover is great ...

    Have a good week - Hilary

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  18. omg! The cover of that book is so gorgeous and your description of the open is fascinating! I must have this book!!! :D

    And yep, I try to open with a "bang." Whatever form that takes. Sometimes it's small, but always it's memorable. Great point~ <3

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