Monday, May 23, 2011

Just a Bit Too Easy

We've heard me gripe in the past about Easy Button Endings, where everything gets wrapped up a little too quickly and cleanly for things to quite make sense.

But, up there with Easy Button Endings might just be Easy Button Openers. How you open up a book, plot arch, or character is important. And, if you don't put the effort into opening them properly, there's going to be a sense on the part of the reader that it was rushed and doesn't quite fit.

Have you ever seen a movie where the villain walks in, kicks a puppy, and then insults his own mother? No, because that would be like hanging a giant, glowing sign above his head announcing I AM THE BAD GUY. But, you know, I've seen some openers that come pretty close. I've seen movies where one of the first things you see the new villain do is shoot some pretty, young thing dead for little reason, and then the camera stays on that so you can remember that he's not a nice guy. To my mind, not subtle.

We like subtlety. We like nuance. It makes characters more interesting and believable. It gives people a chance to find something to love in the villain so that they can feel more like they're reading about real people instead of a cardboard cut-out of a bad guy.

Writing a good opening is hard. Just like all good writing is hard. But we owe it to readers to figure out how to tell the story right. We owe it to our characters. We owe it to ourselves. Because it's worth it.

Ever seen any openers that made you want to drop the book and run? Any that you thought were just so incredibly awesome? How's your writing going?


  1. I've been thinking a lot about this lately in my own work. I have three lines which open the story. One is a question. One is backstory, and the last is action. I like the way it flows the way it is. But I have been thinking I should change them around. 3 - 1 - 2 if you get my meaning. But I'm not sure. We'll see.

    If I ever got off the blogs this morning I might get some work done!

  2. In general I'm more forgiving of an easy opening than an easy ending. I think for some writers the easy opening is just a quick way to get to the emotional sections, and as a reader I want to get to the emotions. But, of course, it's BEST when the opening isn't too easy and when it's intriguing even though all of the conflicts haven't been set up yet. I'm re-reading Moby Dick right now, and I am enjoying the beginning even though I'm 100 pages in and they haven't left the dock yet. For me, Never Let Me Go, is a great example of how to progress through a story.

  3. Anne -- If it flows, that's definitely a good start. But, you know, those things just need to percolate for a while. You'll decide eventually.

    Domey -- I think an opening that holds you is always important. I just hope the hold me without boiling it all down to the simplest possible opener. Make me think!