I am so excited to have Mandy share her thoughts with us today on the importance of opening pages to a novel and in particular her novel Another Mother.
So over to Mandy……
Opening Pages – Another Mother
I would like to talk about the importance of the first few lines and opening pages of a novel. When you consider the number of books on the shelves and virtual shelves nowadays, writers, and less well-known writers in particular, have to make sure that when a reader opens the cover of their book they are compelled to read on. This of course is easier said than done and for me one of the hardest things to get right. The writer of course knows the story, or at least some of it, (I never really know what is going to happen!) but the reader has no clue apart from the blurb. Therefore, to make an impact and create enough interest for the reader to want to know the rest of the story is a little tricky. They have no knowledge of the various characters’ personality, feelings, motives or twists and turns of the plot, because literally nothing has happened yet.
I write within the suspense/mystery genre often with a touch of romance, though my second novel was A Stitch in Time which is actually time travel. It could be argued that with writing suspense, it is somewhat easier to create a dramatic opening than some genres, but that keeping up the mystery without giving too much away as the story progresses is far from simple. I love a challenge, and that’s one of the reasons I love writing suspense. So, let’s go back to how to make an impact in the opening pages. I have included below those of my novel Another Mother to illustrate what I mean. The opening is just over a page long and is also the prologue :
Lying on her side in the road, Hannah looks at a sandal a few feet away. It’s similar to hers, but she can’t see it clearly because her left eye keeps rolling inwards. No, the sandal isn’t hers, there’s a spatter of red on the heel.
Something feels very wrong inside her head, and her right eye watches a pool of dark liquid spread out from underneath her across the tarmac. There is a taste of metal in her throat. Hannah thinks she hears a scream and a babble of voices. A woman’s face comes close to her own. Her mouth moves, but Hannah can’t make out what she is saying. It is as if they are separated by thick glass. The woman smiles, though tears run down her cheeks. Does she know her?
I begin in present tense to engender a feeling of ‘being there’ in the reader. The reader so far realises that someone has probably been knocked over by a vehicle. Her name is Hannah. She’s quite badly injured because of the blood on the sandal and the taste of it in her throat. Hannah can’t focus properly, but she thinks she might know a woman kneeling by her side.
Hannah watches images flick in quick succession across the woman’s face.
The road … traffic racing along as if each vehicle is afraid of coming last … it’s raining … Hannah needs to cross … a tissue on foggy spectacles … waiting … linking arms with someone … laughing?
A gap between cars … preparing to cross … a sharp elbow … sandal strap snapping … panic … running…
She’s remembering what happened. The reader will now have questions – might now wonder if Hannah misjudged the lights, perhaps? A sharp elbow? Has someone pushed her out of the way to save themselves?
A man’s voice comes as if from a long way off. ‘Don’t move her. You could do more damage!’
‘Damage? Is someone hurt?’ Hannah thinks she says these words, but can’t be sure as her lips are numb. She looks at the woman again; tears still wet her cheeks, but there is a dark hole growing at one side of her face. It looks like a full moon aligning with the sun.
A searing pain explodes behind Hannah’s eyes and she wants to scream, but her mouth is full of vomit and her limbs thrash themselves against the surface of the road.
In the dark, she prays the pain will stop, and seconds later it does. She hears a man’s voice loud in her ears counting up to five, over and over, and in perfect time with the counting, she feels a rhythmic thump against her ribs.
At last, the man’s voice is fading and she is thankful. The darkness is a circle and a bright pinprick of white light expands from its centre, until it is all that she can see.
I decided to close the prologue here to maximise the dramatic impact and hopefully leave the reader eager to find out what happens next. Does Hannah die or not? If yes, how is she linked to the story? Who was she? If not, what happens to her next? Is she the mother in the title?
Questioning sets up a ‘dialogue’ between writer and reader which I believe is essential. It enables the reader to really engage with the text and helps to engender a satisfying read. Sometimes these questions aren’t asked in any conscious way but are part of the ‘feeling’ the reader has for a book. I always ask questions when reading suspense in particular, but it happens in all genres, even if it us just to the extent of ‘will they get together or won’t they? The reader has to care about the lives of the characters. It is all part of the dialogue. This dialogue is either strong enough to keep you eagerly turning those pages and reading to the end, or to end the conversation early and close the book.
I hope I have managed to do the former 🙂
I can vouch that she blinking does this in the bucket load!!!! Thank you for such a fab post!!
Fun fact – I left school at 16 and went into hairdressing.
Until next time xxx