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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?