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Openings that grab the reader

Michael Sears presented “Start Write” At Sleuthfest 2015. It was a great session on how to write openings that grab the reader and pull them into the story. Mike said the opening paragraph should include five elements:
1. Setting
2. Characters—at least one strong character, but not necessarily the protagonist
3. Conflict
4. Hook
5. Voice of the author

In a group exercise, Mike asked us to pick one of ten opening scenes and write an opening. I picked “Two men are sitting in a car. The window explodes from the impact of a bullet. One of the men slumps dead.”

Here’s what I wrote: “When the windshield shattered, my first reaction was to duck. Tiny shards of shattered safety glass peppered my hair and the straps of my armored vest. I glanced over at Mike. It was too late for him to duck.”

I thought that was pretty good for a start. Then Hank Phillippi Ryan, an investigative reporter for WHDH-TV in Boston and an award-winning mystery writer in her own right, asked, “Where are they? What is the setting?”

So I added the setting. Now I had: “When the windshield of our Atlantic County Sheriff patrol car shattered, my first reaction was to duck. Tiny shards of shattered safety glass peppered my hair and the straps of my armored vest. I glanced over at Mike. It was too late for him to duck.”

Better, right? Then Charlotte Levine Gruber asked, “Who was driving?”

Another addition. Now it read: “When the windshield of our Atlantic County Sheriff patrol car shattered, my first reaction was to duck. Tiny shards of shattered safety glass peppered my hair and the straps of my armored vest. I glanced over at Mike, slumped in the driver seat. It was too late for him to duck.”

Even better. Then Charlotte asked, “Were they moving or sitting? Is the car going to crash?”

When I told the group that the two men were on a stakeout, Hank asked, “Why were they there? How long had they been there?”

Here’s the final version: “Jim Bob Willis hadn’t made a move since he had punched out the window of his broken-down mobile home with the barrel of his Remington 700 Varmint Rifle over an hour ago and threatened to kill himself. When the windshield of our Atlantic County Sheriff patrol car shattered, my first reaction was to duck. Tiny shards of shattered safety glass peppered my hair and the straps of my armored vest. I glanced over at Mike, slumped in the driver seat. It was too late for him to duck.”

Much better.

How important is a good opening to get you to read a book?

I’ve registered for the 2015 Sleuthfest, sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America. I will attend February 26 to March 1 to rub elbows with James Patterson, Dave Barry, and lots of other talented writers. I expect to learn a lot.

When I attended the Lake County Book Fest last year, one of the speakers was Lisa Black. Lisa is a forensic scientist with the Cape Coral, Florida, police department, working mostly with fingerprints and crime scenes. She also writes great mystery novels. I bought her book Trail of Blood at the Book Fest. I give it five stars. The excitement and suspense are first rate. You can order it at http://tinyurl.com/klhkjab. You’ll be glad you did. Lisa’s website is http://www.lisa-black.com

Quarterback Trap teaser
Port City is excited to be hosting the New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys in the first Super Bowl in its fabulous, new billion-dollar stadium. Chuck McCrary=s old friend from high-school football, Bob Martinez, is starting quarterback for the Jets.
One week before the game, Martinez’s supermodel fiancée, Graciela, disappears in the middle of the night from the headquarters hotel of the Super Bowl. Martinez hires Chuck to find her, but won’t let Chuck involve the police.
That same day the odds on the Super Bowl game change dramatically when someone bets a hundred million dollars on the Cowboys to beat the point spread. Is it Vicente Vidali, the New Jersey casino owner and mob boss? Did he kidnap Graciela?
Chuck discovers that Graciela has a secret that places her life in danger, regardless of the outcome of the game. Was she really kidnapped, or did she run away from her own secret life? Martinez also has a dangerous secret that threatens to destroy his multi-million-dollar career in the NFL.
To save Graciela’s life, Vicente Vidali demands that Martinez shave the point spread on the Super Bowl, so Vidali can collect on his hundred-million-dollar bet.
Chuck’s search for the missing supermodel takes him from the dangerous streets and drug dealers of a Port City ghetto to the waterfront high-rises and private island mansions of billionaires, movie stars, and crime moguls.
Chuck must assault the mob boss’s mega-yacht, risking his own life to bring Graciela to safety. Then he must invade Vidali’s luxurious island mansion and take the fight to the mobster’s home.