Grab the readers’ attention.
Following the previous week’s session, ‘Titles First’
in which some of the discussion focused on what they can or should reveal about the story and how they can intrigue, this week’s session title was ‘Action First’.
We started with openings, of not more than three sentences and we had a choice of three settings.
We discovered when we shared our story openings that it was possible to make more than one educated guess about the genre and story-line in virtually every case.
In the second exercise we all started with the same scenario: ‘A man (or woman) sees a body falling past the eighth floor window.’
We had two possibly dystopian openings, in one a woman has her window open and is smoking, apparently surreptitiously, but shrugs off the falling body almost as if it is a regular occurrence. In the second the observer clearly knows why the victim is plunging to their death and expresses a slight increase in concern, following her recent promotion to a higher floor, ‘working her way up to enforced suicide’. Both very intriguing and full of potential.
Another opening had crowds of screaming fans below a window and a harassed star, impatiently giving in to their demands to see his baby but when he holds the child out of the balcony window this time ‘Mr Michael’ drops little ‘Paris’…. A great ‘what if’ scenario which reflected a point raised earlier in the session about how fate turns on a single moment.
A seemingly calm and everyday scene in which someone is arguing with their partner, asking them to ‘not put cheese on mine’, turns on a instant as she then cries, ‘Call the police, call an ambulance!’ There is a moment of humour at the reply ‘There’s no need for your sarcasm,’ before the second person is alerted to the genuine emergency outside the window. This intuitive insight mimics the moments we have all felt when we have laughed inappropriately or made a joke when a serious situation is unfolding without us realising. I think it provokes a surge of empathy that is a terrific attention grabber. But the plot thickens immediately when they run to look out of the widow and see a large black car screech to a halt and two men get out, bundle the body into the boot and drive off!
in another example the observer realises that the body has been thrown off the building by her ‘partner’ but as she rushes to join him in getting away she is staggered to find him drive off without her!
What did we get out of the session?
We know from past experience what a huge variety of outcomes we can get from the same starting point. But, this session was focusing on capturing the interest, intriguing the reader making them want to read on to find out ‘what is going on?’, ‘what is this all about?’, ‘what happens next?’ We might be keen to give the reader an idea of the genre and style of story but, as with titles, how much of the story-line is given away is less important than making it catchy and interesting.
Most of us knew whether we were intrigued enough to want to know more, even though we could not always tell what kind of story it was going to be. It is much more important to pique the readers interest than to give information.
So, don’t start with a lot of background or physical description. Just grab the readers’ attention!