Shannon Stacey

Openingitis revisited

On November 26, 2005, I posted a blog entry entitled Openingitis in which I whined about how hard it is to write the opening scene of a book. I had stumbled across one of my favorite openings, from a book I’d set aside because westerns were dead.

It totally, totally rocks my world this book—Taming Eliza Jane—is releasing June 12th from Samhain Publishing, where it is all about the story and westerns aren’t dead. So as a little update, I’m revisiting that old post and dragging you along with me. (Okay, some of the revisiting is due to the fact I have a splinter in my finger that’s infected and hurts like a bastard, and the impending self-surgery is distracting me so I can’t be creative.)

* * 2005 * *

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.”

* * 2007 * *

There were several people who, in the comments of that post, told me to leave that opening alone. Other than a few tweaks here and there, the new opening is almost identical—so almost identical there’s no point in reposting it.

But, unless the hero and heroine are introduced in the same scene, there are really two openings—one for each main character. Since I’m revisiting Eliza Jane’s opening, I thought I’d also let Will introduce himself:

Women, in general, were more of a pain in the ass than a lumpy saddle. And whores, in particular, could drive a sober man to go looking for the bottom of a bottle.

The one between whose thighs Will Martinson currently knelt—a particular favorite of his by the name of Sadie—giggled again, causing her ample breasts to shake. It was more of a distraction than any man could withstand. But Sadie liked baring them, even though he’d told her time and time again he had no need to see them.

“It ain’t supposed to tickle, Sadie.”

“I ain’t laughin’ at no tickle. Was laughin’ at your face—so serious and businesslike.”

I know that’s a little short, but I cut it off so y’all could wonder what the man is up to. *snicker*

Of course the book hasn’t suffered the red-penned wrath of Angie yet, but I’m encouraged by the fact I’ve finally written a book in which the opening scenes have stuck.

I’m hoping it’s a good sign.

7 comments to “Openingitis revisited”

  1. Jaci Burton
      · April 25th, 2007 at 11:33 am · Link

    Why don’t I have this book yet?


  2. Jaci Burton
      · April 25th, 2007 at 11:34 am · Link

    Oh and because I suffer from hit-submit-too-soon-itis……I meant to say



  3. Charlene
      · April 25th, 2007 at 11:56 am · Link

    Me, too! And, um, it’s not just you. I’ve rewritten the opening of Miss Lonely Hearts about a bazillion times. And that’s before the Red Pen of Angie.

    Can’t wait to read this book, Shan! :woot:

  4. Melani Blazer
      · April 25th, 2007 at 1:50 pm · Link



    Send. me. The. Book.


  5. Emma Wayne Porter
      · April 25th, 2007 at 6:39 pm · Link

    *tapping foot*

    Forgive my elephantine memory, here, but I’m still waiting for you to revive that one story that started with someone arriving in a new town to marry a dead man. Best first sentence ever, imo.


  6. Shannon
      · April 25th, 2007 at 7:47 pm · Link

    :hide: No.

    Forgive my elephantine memory, here, but I’m still waiting for you to revive that one story that started with someone arriving in a new town to marry a dead man. Best first sentence ever, imo.

    Years later and my mother still asks about that story because of that sentence, too. In the comments of the original openingitis post, I mention the dead man story:

    Who knows…I might finish [TEJ] 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.

    I can’t even begin to list the things wrong with that book. And I don’t mean that in my neurotic “OMG, I suck” way, but in an honest assessment way. I also pillaged some of it for TEJ.

    If I go for the trilogy, I’ll rip that premise and use that first line. (A Christmas novella would be nice, huh?)

  7. Emma Wayne Porter
      · April 25th, 2007 at 8:53 pm · Link


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