Saturday, May 16, 2015

Opening Spells

Lost in her Thoughts - Samy Charnine
Every story begins with a spell, invoked through the opening line.

Why? According the the Harry Potter universe, an opening spell facilitates the passage between two zones, creating an accessible connection. In the case of fiction, the connection is between the reader and writer, a conduit that transports both to a “secondary world” where the story takes place.

Think of the opening spell as the magic that draws the reader in, convincing them to sets aside their ‘real’ world responsibilities and immerse in the pages. Like any good spell, there are a variety of ways to go about it, but realize this inaugural line is rarely written first. Often the first line, paragraph and chapter are edited and revised for days, weeks and months after the story is completed.

To make this opening spell powerful, you have to be willing to give it your all. It might help to identify your approach. Here are four to consider:

  • The plunge
  • The mood
  • The compel
  • The back story

Ingredients required for each will vary. I’ll break it down but note all will require a measure of time, imagination, paper and pen or word processor, and of course, solitude.

However you create the opening line, it must always whisper: Listen to me . . . Stay with me . . .

1) The Plunge
The Plunge


This opening spell is usually dynamic, dangerous and always in medias res. In other words, it starts in the middle of the action, where disaster doesn’t have long to wait.

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races

“Sammy’s voice was low, his fingers warmly persuasive. Terri Garey, A match Made in Hell

“I didn’t realize he was a werewolf at first.” Pamela Briggs, Moon Called - Mercy Thompson

‘Where’s papa going with that axe?’ E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

“Mother, I’m in love with a robot.” Tanith Lee, The Silver Metal Lover

“Screaming, I slashed and kicked wildly.” Jocelynn Drake, Nightwalker

2) The Mood
The Lost Correspondent -
Jason deCaires Taylor.


These opening spells tend to be more world building. They rely on voice, and the promise of what is to come.

"Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.” Brandon Sanderson - Elantris

“Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day.” Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“By the time the first AIVAS had finished its recital of the first nine years of the colonization of Pern, the sun, Rukbat, has set with an unusually fine display. Anne McCaffrey - All the Werys of Pern

“‘Ark-aawl’ —a hundred voices calling their territory from the treetops. Ly de Angeles - The Quickening

“There was a momentary feeling of pressure against her mind, then the stone door shimmered and disappeared.” Nicole Murphy - Secret Ones, Dream of Asarlai

“In the days following the holocaust, which came to be known as the Great White, there was death and madness.” Isobelle Carmody - Obernewtyn

“It is said, in Imardin, that the wind has a soul, and that it wails through the narrow city streets because it is grieved by what it finds there." Trudi Canavan - The Magicians’ Guild

3) The Compel
Falling by
Igor Grushko Vayne


This opening spell is often a cross between the Plunge and the Mood. It has elements of both.

“What I have chosen to do is shocking.” Traci Harding - AWOL

"Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.” Terry Pratchett - Hogfather

"The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault.” Jim Butcher - Blood Rites: the Dresden Files

"The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.” Ursula K. Le Guin - A Wizard of Earthsea

“The wind blew out of the northwest in dry, fierce gusts, sweeping across the face of the Gray Lands.” Helen Low - The Wall of Night

4) The Back Story
In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.


Back story as an opening spell is tricky. Readers want to be in the here and now, diving into what is, not what was. But with the right tone and pace, it can work.

Back story first lines deal with the past in a way that draws the reader in. We must be compelled to ask, “And then what?”

“Eight Months ago, I was attacked in the back alley of my home town and rescued by an uber-hot guy named Chaz.” Amanda Arista - Nine Lives of an Urban Panther

“I came to London to write and found myself practicing magic instead.” Kim Wilkins - Angel of Ruin/Fallen Angel.

“I never believed in ghost.” Merrie Destefano - Fathom

“In the early 1800’s a man named Amadeo Avogadro hypothesized a number—a baker’s dozen for chemists, but in his equation hid a paradox, one that could alter reality with a single thought." Kim Falconer - Path of the Stray

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” JRR Tolkien - The Hobbit

Whether the opening begins with fear, shock, surprise, a problem, a question, a character or history, if you keep reading, it has done it’s job.

What are your favorite opening lines? The Plunge? The Mood? Back story? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Kim Falconer is a Supernatural Underground author writing paranormal romance, urban fantasy, YA and epic science fantasy novels.

You can find out more about Kim at the 11th House Blog, and on FaceBook and Twitter.

She posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month.

Her latest release is "Blood and Water" in Supernatural Underground: Vampires Gone Wild.

5 comments:

Helen Lowe said...

I find it hard to go past Laini Taylor's 'Once upon a time an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."

Great post, Kim, as always.

Terri Garey said...

Oh, that's a good one, Helen! I loved that entire series by Laine Taylor!

One of the best openings I can recall is "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor." (From Deanna Raybourne's Silent In the Grave.)

Wonderful post, as usual, Kim!

Kim Falconer said...

I love these! Also, a classic:

"The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten."

Jules Verne - Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Helen Lowe said...

Classic, Kim! :)

MacM545 said...

Hi, I don't know if you'd be interested but I'm looking for more people to follow my blogs.
http://newseventstimeline2015.blogspot.com/
http://the-fascinating-universe.blogspot.com/
http://etsandghosts.blogspot.com/
So, the 1st blog I listed just chronicles world events. The 3rd blog is pretty much just for fun.