When you start a book do you want it to begin in the middle of the action or do you prefer a slow build up? Brandon McNulty did a YouTube video that made me think, what is the best way to open a story.
As a reader I like both depending on the story. If I start reading and a character is being shot at or chased, I’m interested to see what happens next. BUT…I also enjoy getting to know a character a bit before they’re thrown into the pot of boiling water. The rom coms where we see a little bit of normal life before everything goes haywire, or the cozy mystery that starts with what appears to be just an average day in the life of the sleuth or the accused.
Which version has more power to attract the reader?
- Her arms and legs trembled with fatigue. The dizziness and nausea still lingered but self-preservation pushed those discomforts to the back of her mind. From the shore she could see the yacht burning. She flinched as a second charge exploded, demolishing what was left of the life she’d begun to build. Shivering in her wet clothes, she knew she couldn’t wait around until her strength returned. An ex-con couldn’t be found this close to a crime scene. Stumbling barefoot over the rocks, shells and detritus that littered the shoreline, she hoped she wasn’t leaving bloody footprints behind. Slowly, she made her way home by the backroads praying no one would see her and note her appearance. It wouldn’t pay for anyone to connect her to the murders.
- She turned off the vacuum cleaner, her head still bobbing to the music coming out of her headphones. The boat swayed. Were they being boarded? No one was due to arrive until later tonight. Quickly, she shut off her phone and pulled her headphones out. Angry shouts from the upper deck caused her heart to pound. She needed to hide. Hurriedly, she stowed her cleaning stuff it the tiny closet, and herself in the shower. She wasn’t supposed to be here. If her parole appointment hadn’t run so late…the boat started moving. Oh shit, oh shit, please don’t head out to the ocean. What do I do? The boat stopped. Breathing a sigh of relief, they weren’t far from shore. Her relief was short lived at the pop of silenced gun shots. Balling into the fetal position at the bottom of the shower, she blinked back tears and nausea. Another boat came along side, scraping the hull. Thank God, they’re leaving. The odor of gasoline warned her things were about to get worse. Creeping from her hiding place, she tried not to look at the dead bodies. She leaped into the water as the smaller boat drove away from the yacht. She felt the percussion and for a moment feared she’d drown from the nausea and dizziness of the impact. She floated on her back until she could get her bearings then swam to shore. She stared back at the burning yacht as another explosion rattled the night. Not waiting for the trembling in her legs to ease, she made her way home along the backroads hoping no one noticed her leaving the scene of the crime.
As you can see, number 2 has more details, but does it give you more or less? Number 2 gives more background information, orients the reader a little more but it takes away some of the punch the first has. If you started reading a book that opened with either of these, which would be more interesting? Would it really matter to you? I believe there are many different types of readers as there are many different types of writers. There is no one-way is the right way. It’s a matter of what fits the story, the genre, and the individual taste. While I like both, I would tend to go with the first to create that intense reaction and then build the character more in the next scene especially if I’m writing a fast-paced suspense. If it’s more of a psychological thriller, the slower pace might be best.
I’d love to hear your opinion. As a reader or as a writer, what do you think is best?