Marketing for Romance Writers Magazine February 2018 MFRW Magazine Vol. 1 Issue 2 - Page 28

WELL BEGUN IS WELL DONE: How to Make Your Opening Sell Your Story By: Alice Orr The opening of any story is crucial. A po- tential reader may be standing in a store aisle scanning the first few pages, or reading the free sample of- fered on an electronic device. The situation is the same. A sto- ryteller gets one chance to make a first impression, and you must not squander that chance. So, make your best first impression with a dramatic opening. That doesn‟t mean you have to start out with a murder scene the way I like to do in my romantic sus- pense novels. Your opening can be more subtle than that, but it must be dramatic all the same. Let me use an example from a favorite film of mine, Casablanca, which is in my opinion one of the great roman- tic suspense stories of all time. By the way, I often use movies as storytelling examples because I find that more of us have seen the same movies than have read the same books, and I want all of us to be able to relate to the examples I use. You also have easy refer- ence to these examples because you can stream most of them on your computer. Casablanca came out in 1942, when the world was already immersed in the most dramatic of times, World War II. The opening of the film taps directly into that drama with maps of Europe, then Africa and Northern Africa, crawling slowly, inevitably beneath the credits. 28 Maps meant something very significant in WWII. They ran in newspapers almost daily alongside stories of heart-stopping battles, even troop movements if they could be made known. Maps were a life- and-death visual to a 1942 audience. Nothing is more dramatic than life versus death. Music also enhances the drama of Casablanca’s first impression. Exotic mu- sic initially, as the map in the background moves toward North Africa. We are headed for a world that is distant and different from our own, a complicated, possibly incomprehensible world. The music signals us to be on guard, maybe even afraid. Then, on an abrupt beat, the tempo changes, from exotic and ominous to loud and rousing. The patriotic strains of La Marseillaise set our hearts beating to a different tune, even more dramatic and affecting than what we have already heard. And we‟re not even past the opening credits. We haven‟t yet arrived at Rick‟s Café Americain, with Humphrey Bogart as Rick himself at the bar, brow fur- rowed, cigarette stub smoldering, the weight of a heavy psychic wound all but visible beneath the square shoulders of his white dinner jacket. If you want to see what a romantic hero, or any kind of hero, looks like, screen this scene ASAP. Plus, in the next two minutes, you will witness the revelation of his inner charac- ter, too. Casablanca shows us that a story‟s dramatic opening has a lot of work to do, a lot of weight to carry beneath its square shoulders. This film does that in spades as clear and unmistakable as the ones on the cards the croupier turns over for his customers in Rick‟s gambling den. Does your opening carry that weight effec- tively? How dramatic is your story open- ing, anyway? Ask yourself, and your story, these Ten Crucial Questions to find out. 1. At this moment, my hero/ine must be plunged into a situation where she feels as if her world is being yanked out from under her. Is that happen- ing, and how does it happen? 2. From this point on, her life will never be the same again. How, spe- cifically, will her life be changed? 3. From this moment on, my hero/ine will be engaged in a struggle. How specifically does that struggle begin in this opening scene? 4. This scene must begin in the middle of something dramatic already in progress. How, specifically, is that the case in my story? 5. I need to describe what my main character looks like. I must describe her or him by way of a couple of significant details, rather than by in- terrupting the dramatic action of the scene. What, specifically, are those significant details for my main char- acter? 3