Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Stephen King Discusses Opening Sentences

I read an article today by Stephen King on why he spends months and even years writing his opening sentence.  (He does make it clear he doesn't do that, however, until after he's done drafting.)

But some of the things he said made me think.  For example, as the article goes on, he discusses how an opening line invites a reader to come here, to listen to this.  It made me go back and look at some of the opening lines of my books.  I think Ashes Ashes did great since the first line was "It was gut-check time."  All Fall Down's first line was "Something was wrong."  So maybe I've already been inviting my readers to "come here, listen to this."  That made me feel good.

Then he talks about how the opening sentences should pull you right inside the story and make you curious---maybe without you even realizing it.  I checked that one off, too.  Whew.

But then he talked about something that I have been working on.  Voice.  Which he says that a lot of people mistake for style.  He compares voice to singer Mick Jagger, for example, and that when you buy a Rolling Stones album, you know the voice and something in us will connect with that.  It's recognizable.

He gives us writing examples of writers we would know like that because they are distinctive and then says it's the same with a book, that the writer's "voice" will create an intimate connection with the reader. There are a few books and authors that do that for me, but I know it's an area I can work on in my books. Although I do know that when people pick up my books they will expect a lot of suspense and a little romance because that's my style.  But still, I want each of my readers to be able to experience the characters and stories in a way that will connect them and be intimately memorable through voice.  Maybe someday Mr. King will be using me as an example of distinctive voice and say, "If you pick up a Julie Coulter Bellon book you'll see what I'm talking about."  (Or maybe not.  The man might be dead before I get it right!)

One of the last things he talks about is how he composes in bed, right before he goes to sleep, just lying there in the dark, thinking.  If nothing else, that made me happy because I do that, too.  It's one of my best creative times, right before sleep, composing a scene in my head.  It always flows then, and I always struggle whether I should actually turn the light back on and write it down, or try to remember it in the morning.  (I have learned over and over that I need to get up and write it down.  This old brain doesn't remember a lot in the morning.  But, at least Mr. King and I have something in common with composing right before bed.)

If you want to read the whole article you can see it here (Warning, there is language).  I found his thoughts fascinating and even more so when I stacked my work against his advice.  What do you think about opening sentences?  Do they represent an invitation to you? Do they really hold that much weight for the reader in voice, style, and pulling you in?  Or is it the first few pages?


Debra Erfert said...

I started to read Steven's article, but didn't finish it. I'd rather read your synopsis of it, thank you.

I think your opening is perfect..."Something is wrong." and also, "It was gut check time." Yes, those lines draw people in, but you don't always have to use dialogue lines right at the beginning, so I was told. That first sentence is very important. It draws you into that first paragraph, and keeps you on that first page. I'm still working on it, but practice makes perfect.

KaseyQ said...

Good time for me to read this. I have been writing my book like a patchwork quilt, and I haven’t done much in the way of an opening scene yet. I have been toying with an idea in my head, and this confirms that I should probably head in that direction. Thanks! :-)

Oh, and my favorite piece of Stephen King writing advice (other than “murder your little darlings”) is that, when you are finished with your first draft, you should put it into a drawer and then don’t pull it out again until it looks like some alien relic bought at a yard sale where you don’t even remember stopping. :-)