Nancy Kress, author of Elements of Fiction Writing – Beginnings, Middles & Ends,says writers have about three paragraphs in a short story and three pages in a novel to catch the reader’s (or agent’s or editor’s) attention. She explains how we can make our openings interesting and original through character, conflict, specifics, and credibility.
In our very first sentences, we can hint at some future conflict or change in our story.
Kress says that we don’t have to have a body hurtling from a window—there are many subtler ways to introduce conflict. Randomly choosing a few of my favorite books from my bookshelf, I’ve copied their first sentences below:
“Running with the Demon,” by Terry Brooks.
“Hssst! Nest!” His voice cut through the cottony layers of her sleep with the sharpness of a cat’s claw.
I like the specifics here and the contrast of “cottony layers of sleep” with “sharpness of a cat’s claw.” We have the feeling that something interesting is going to happen. Read more