Shannon Stacey


The opening of every book I write kills me. Every single time. I write chapter one, then rewrite the opening. Write a love scene, then rewrite the opening. Write the black moment, then rewrite the opening. Write the first I love you moment, then…yadda yadda yadda.

I’m never happy with them. I know the importance of a good opening—a point constantly hammered home by agents talking about zipping off a rejection if the first paragraph doesn’t grab them and readers talking about one page reading tests in the stores or the excerpt on the author’s website. I swear a good opening has become my own personal Eleanor—prized and unattainable.

I was digging through an old file box last night looking for a scrap of paper with some Russian history notes scribbled on it, and I came across a western I started some time ago and set aside to work on a contemporary romance (because westerns don’t sell had been hammered thoroughly into my head, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as that contemporary was Forever Again) and I reread the opening. While it’s a wee bit rough, having not gone beyond first draft stage, this is probably my favorite of my own openings:

When Eliza Jane Carter stepped down from the stagecoach, every man, woman and child on the street stopped to stare.

It wasn’t only her incredible height of almost six feet. It wasn’t only the combination of coal-black hair, ice blue eyes and porcelain complexion. It wasn’t even her lush figure, clad in a long black skirt and severe white blouse.

It was all of those things, combined with a piercing, go-to-hell look that seemed to bore into the very soul of the town. With her back ramrod straight and her chin held high, she looked around the main street of Gardiner, just one more dingy cowtown like the dozens she had toured before.

Her gaze lit on a woman in a worn calico dress with five children in tow. There was a woman standing silent while her husband conversed with a group of men. And over there was a woman, her belly swollen with child, with an infant on her hip and a toddler clinging to her skirt.

Eliza took a deep breath and gripped the handle of her small trunk. The women of Gardiner, Texas were about to be set free and Eliza Jane Carter would be their George Washington, their Abraham Lincoln. She was a one woman revolution.

It’s rough and a mite bit heavy on the Romance Heroine Stereotypical Appearance phrases, but I still like it. And last night, when I was puttering around with old research because I was in a mood to totally throw in the writing towel because it doesn’t matter how good a book I write if I can’t get the reader past the first page, it gave me just enough hope to get my butt parked in front of the monitor again.

But just once—and my current project needs to be this once—I’d like to write an opening sentence that says “BAM! Plan on take-out for dinner.”

8 comments to “Openingitis”

  1. Ann Wesley Hardin
      · November 26th, 2005 at 10:47 pm · Link

    Shannon, you like it because it’s strong, in your face writing. As I read this opening I got excited from the vehemence I heard in the character. I felt her personality. She did indeed leap off the page and make me want to know more about her and her purpose.

    Sure, it’s a little heavy on the cliche, but cliches are cliches for a reason. They’re true and they work in the proper context. And so does this opening.

    You wrote that, girl! And it sings.

  2. Anna Lucia
      · November 27th, 2005 at 5:49 am · Link

    Shannon, that’s magnificent, and I’m not just being kind. For me, looking at it again, the reason it’s magnificent is that you’ve got the core of the character right there on the page. You deal with the physical, but those details are dismissed as unimportant in the narrative because the IMPORTANT bit is that One Woman Revolution.

    And don’t you DARE run away with the idea that you’ve used up your one time of writing a great opening. It’s not a one shot deal. This is not something you “used to be able to do”. The talent and understanding you drew on to write that opening is still with you, only it’s bigger, better, and more experienced. Sure, you’ve taken some knocks to your confidence, but you’re SELLING, and that means you’re GOOD. (If you’re muttering, “yes, but…” right now, I’ll come round and slap you.)

    Maybe you need to finish the book and then rewrite the opening. Perhaps you can save each opening in a separate file everytime you feel you have to rewrite it, and then identify the best bits of each and work something up from there.

    But don’t doubt yourself. Never doubt yourself.

    You rule.


  3. Charlene
      · November 27th, 2005 at 12:23 pm · Link

    This is kind of funny, because I don’t worry about a strong opening. I worry about finding the true beginning of the story, since I write out of order! :rofl:

    Hey, whatever results in another finished story, that’s what matters. :nod:

    And when are you going to finish this one, huh? I like it!

  4. Shannon
      · November 27th, 2005 at 1:26 pm · Link

    Thank you, ladies. *blush*

    I write out of order, too, Charli, but I almost always start with the first chapter or two, then start jumping.

    Who knows…I might finish it at some point. I still like the story, but it was meant to be the second in a series and the first one sucked beyond redemption. I think I was about done with the first one about the time I finally got the ‘net and learned that I was doing it wrong. Now, I know right and wrong are pretty subjective when it comes to writing, but trust me…it was wrong.

    But I could actually tie it in nicely to The Widowmaker


  5. Jaci Burton
      · November 27th, 2005 at 1:42 pm · Link

    you’re overthinking. again.

    leave that damn opening alone for now. it grabbed me and i want to know a lot more about the heroine. and i’m picky.

    write the book.

    did i mention to leave the damn opening alone?

  6. Heather Rae
      · November 28th, 2005 at 3:33 am · Link

    I agree with Ann, Anna, Charli and especially Jaci. Don’t you dare start second-guessing yourself now. If you do it, I’ll do it and then we’ll have anarchy…:cheesy:

  7. Gabriele
      · November 28th, 2005 at 2:10 pm · Link

    I can relate to the opening problem. Mine* have to be perfect early in the development of a novel, even before I finish the detailed outline.

    I’m weird, I know. :nod:

    *preferably the entire first chapter, about 2000-4000 words.

  8. Kitty
      · November 29th, 2005 at 10:52 am · Link

    Ooh, I want to read that book, and don’t you dare change that opening.

    Ah but what do I know, I’m only a reader :kiss:

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