Writing the perfect opening is hard work. I’m reading a spy novel at moment because that’s the only way to learn a genre. I’m not a big fan of the author’s style of writing, but this is not the first book I’ve read that uses this format.
The book is Rules of Vengeance by Christopher Reich (2009, Doubleday/Random House, ISBN 978-0-385-52407-0) and is the second in a series about a doctor named Jonathon Ransom, who actually isn’t spy, but his wife is.
Anyway, the opening scene is a news announcement on Reuters news service of a car bomb explosion, then the action centers on Jonathon Ransom for a couple of pages.
And then the reader goes to Chapter 1, which describes in great detail an exclusive apartment building in a ritzy part of London, where the reader follows the intrigue of an intruder into one of the apartments. The owner of the apartment is murdered by intruder and then the detective who investigates what is considered a routine suicide determines is actually a murder.
Then we jump back to Jonathon and along the way get a detailed description of the workings of a ultra-secret spy organization in the U.S. In my view, there are a great many details that could have been left out, making this a much tighter and compelling read.
But I’ll continue to read so that I can understand what sells in this genre and how not to fall victim to this style of writing.
In the meantime, I have to figure out what’s going to work for my young adult spy/murder/romance historical fiction book set in 1942. At the moment, the title is EARTHQUAKES because it’s set in Los Angeles and my Jonathon has nightmares about the devastation an earthquake can cause. But also because of the metaphorical earthquakes Jonathon is experiencing in his young life.
The family has just learned their maternal grandfather died on Corregidor, Philippines and their father is now missing. Both men are Marine Corps officers and Naval Academy graduates. There’s one earthquake.
Earthquake number 2 is finding their next-door neighbor stabbed to death in his house. Plus, people keep breaking into Jonathon’s house to find some secret message.
I’ve tried several openings, such as having Jonathon wake up one morning from yet another earthquake nightmare and have to rush to get ready for school. First, though, he’s feel pressure to calm down the daily fight between his older brother and their mother about why he should or should not quit college to enlist in the military to save America from the invaders.
My editor says that publishers reject stories that start with dreams or with the protagonist waking up.
Also, I shouldn’t start with the first word being a sound. In this case “whump,” because his brother is pounding on the kitchen table below Jonathon’s bedroom.
One of my critique group women wants me to have a real earthquake described in the first page or two, but that’s not what I want. I want to focus on the metaphorical aspect.
At the moment I’m stuck, but I’ll keep mulling it over in my head and it will come to me. In the meantime, I’ll working on making the rest of the novel perfect. Or as close as possible.
I think the first paragraphs in my other two novels are good and compelling set ups. Terror’s Identity starts out with:
At sixteen, guys are supposed to tough, right? But when Mom
pounds of the stairs to our bedrooms shouting, “Aidan! Maya! This is it! We’re leaving…now,” tough is not what I feel.
My second novel, a middle-grade horse book, Emily’s Ride to Courage, starts out with:
Usually, the sweet scent of just-mowed grass and the
growl of a tractor cutting a hay field perks me right
up. Not this time. This time I only feel dread.
I hope those make you want to read further. Thanks for reading. And, as usual, I’d love to hear from you. Sarah