Friday 10 February 2012

Arresting Your Reader…

A couple of years ago, I attended a writing masterclass hosted by the fabulous Diane Pearson, acclaimed author and recently retired President of the Romantic Novelist’s Association. Diane was also Senior Editor for Transworld Publishers where she edited - among many illustrious others - the wonderful Jilly Cooper and, in 1994, she won the British Book Award for Editor of the Year.

The subject of the workshop was getting the opening lines of your novel exactly right in order to immediately arrest the attention of your reader. I learned so much from Diane on that day about opening lines that I now work hard to make sure the start of my novels adhere to her wise words.

I learned that ideally the first lines should indicate the mood, tone and content of the book, as well as setting the time and place. Controversially perhaps, it was suggested that dialogue should be avoided in the first paragraph, as it makes it difficult to capture period and place quickly. To see how this is done effectively, I suggest we look at the one of the most powerful, most recognised opening lines in all of literature, that of Daphne du Maurier’s novel ‘Rebecca’.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.”
Using Diane’s advice, I tried to use this principle of mood, tone, content and sense of place with the opening lines of my own novel ‘Bagpipes & Bullshot’. To my delight, she read out my work in class that day as an approved example!

“When the Greyhound bus pulled over in Baytown Texas, Innes Buchanan stepped off. He dropped his tartan backpack and bagpipes onto the boardwalk and inhaled deeply, feasting his eyes on the shimmering white sands and glittering blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.”

So writers, let’s get to work on our own opening lines – please do feel free to let me know how you are getting along by leaving a comment.

And readers, what are you reading right now? Why not flip back to the opening few lines of the novel you are reading and let us know if you get a sense of mood, tone, content and sense of place from those first few sentences?

Love, Janice xx