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Yesterday I went to a Donald Maass (literary agent) event on “The Emotional Craft of Fiction.” I really enjoyed it and learned some new craft tools to apply to my work. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, I strongly recommend going. (There’s also a book of that same title by Donald.) His website is here and to read specifically about Donald and where he is speaking, go here. Obviously I can’t share the whole session, but wanted to share a small portion.
What really struck me is the six elements our openings need to include. Some were familiar, and some were presented in a way new to me. Here they are:
Donald illuminated these ideas with sample passages from several books and one unpublished manuscript. I’m going to briefly show these elements with my own example from a recent book I’ve read, Katherine Reay’s The Austen Escape. Feel free to “look inside” at the first section before reading my analysis.
The mood – frustration
Story questions – What is Mary’s project? What is her relationship with Nathan? Is she in love with him and he doesn’t know? Why is he so helpful? Why does Mary not get along with Karen?
Life or death – death. The project is dead.
Language/style - contemporary
Need/urgency – Mary needs to move on.
Strength – Yes, she is determined to get over her “illusions.”
All that in just a little over 200 words. Does it make you want to read on? It definitely did so for me. And nothing really is happening. It’s only a conversation. But I was hooked.
For me the most difficult question to answer in Donald’s examples was language/style. I could see it when he pointed out that one text had a Biblical style, almost a sermon. Another was ironic. I think I need more practice. ;-)
We can analyze the openings of our own manuscripts by using these elements. Or ask our critique group or beta readers to answer these questions for us. If their answers aren’t what we expect, that may be okay. But if the answers are not where we wanted the opening to take them, it’s back to the keyboard.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.