On The Subject Of: Crafting a good opening

As part of our ongoing thematic initiative, for the next two weeks the blog posts will discuss the topic of “crafting a good opening”.  After that we want to pull in another one-word exercise set, so we need some more word ideas from you, our fearless readers.  Post your word suggestions as comments on any of the blog entries this week or next and we’ll choose one of them upon which to spin.

Now, on to the meat of the matter!

By opening, we are not just talking about an opening line, but rather the initial elements that the writer puts forth to draw the reader in (or viewer as is the case with screenplays).  By all accounts, for a full length screenplay, the writer has just 10 pages (which equates to approximately 10 minutes of screen time) to hook the reader and be deemed worthy of further consideration.  Fail that first test and the screenplay hits the rubbish bin.  By necessity, the shorter the piece, the shorter amount of time the writer has to make their mark.

We also chose the word “crafting” deliberately.  For this writer, engaging openings do not fall out of my brain fully formed and ready to take on all challengers.  For short stories and the like, I definitely spend a majority of my rework time in the first two paragraphs, tweaking, poking, prodding, kneading the words into something onto which I hope the reader will grab.

One of my favorite openings is from one of my favorite movies of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Within a few minutes we are introduced to the main character in his preferred element and given insight into many of the qualities that will serve him well in the story to come: resourcefulness, self-reliance, multi-discipline expertise, quick thinking and, oh yeah, a fear of snakes.  Given that Raiders was a modern take on the action serials of a generation before, it’s no surprise that thrills are abundant immediately, but that we also get a healthy dose of character exposition at the same time shows the craftsman at work.