Everyone strives to reach the lofty goal of grabbing an editor and agent’s attention from the first sentence. But what’s the right way to do that? Is it better to open with an action scene or with a more introspective point-of-view? I’ve seen both ways done extremely well before, though I’ve heard that it’s harder to showcase your voice by opening with an action scene.

So which is a better opening for a paranormal story?

THIS…

Sometimes in the dark of night, when the earth trembled under her feet, when the wind howled through the valley of skyscrapers, when the fog rolled along the deserted San Francisco streets, Eva could feel them.

Even now, as the city slept behind its closed doors and locked windows, she sat in her car and waited, praying for just one glimpse of them. What she hoped to encounter wasn’t human. Yet it walked among them, for she had seen these strange beings with her own two eyes. They could be the waitress who’d poured coffee at the diner this morning, or the man that had stopped to help change a flat tire last week, or the diva-licious woman that sidled up against some lonely man at the nightclub on Friday night. Not in the least discriminatory, these beings come in all ages, sizes, and colors.

Oh, everyone’s wondering what they are by now, but Eva has no time to dive into such information, for at the moment her police scanners are buzzing like a swarm of bees.

(Then the scene becomes more active , more action orientated)

OR THIS.

With her breath caught in her throat, Eva exited her tweaked out Eclipse racer loaded with police scanners instead of nitrous oxide. Ether steamed up from vents on the sidewalk and mixed with the fog as she made my way down the service alley behind the now empty shopping complex. Voices reached her. She tried to calm herself with the thought that maybe it was just homeless people but knew that wasn’t true, because the radio strapped to her belt buckle zapped airwaves of static out into the night.

With her back pressed against the uneven brick wall, she edged deeper into the vat of blackness lit only by the silhouette of the moon. When two men emerged from the shadows, she plastered herself against the wall while her fight or flight reflex shot to flight.

Share your thoughts...

What’s your take on the opening paragraphs above? Personally, I like the first one, but wonder if the pacing is too slow, or that it’s too much of an information dump. There are just too many shades of gray in the writing process for me.

Until next time, happy writing.

34 comments

  1. Mary Ricksen // October 28, 2009 at 11:45 PM  

    I like the first one too. I have no idea why it just hits me better. That is my reader take. If you want my writer take, maybe when I am better... Easier to jump into for me.

  2. Barbara Monajem // October 28, 2009 at 11:47 PM  

    I prefer the first one, too, but either kind of scene can work for a paranormal. The first one is more leisurely, but it's definitely spooky/scary -- a slow buildup to the action. The second one is also scary, but most of the sentences are long and complex, which seems to me to counteract the atmosphere of urgency, because they're harder to read quickly. Maybe a combination of the two would work even better...? Just a thought.

  3. Mary Marvella // October 29, 2009 at 12:52 AM  

    Don't make me choose! I like both.
    Both set a great mood.
    Barbara has a point about long sentences in an action scene.
    good job, Pam!

  4. Your Wonderful Daughter // October 29, 2009 at 2:59 AM  

    Momma~ Now you know I'm not much of a writer but I must say I like the first one. It grabbed my attention better then the second one. I am so proud of you....me and the boys love you. SmOoChIeS!!!

  5. Cyrano // October 29, 2009 at 7:10 AM  

    Hmmm. Tough call. I tend to like action opening better. But I certainly loved the first paragraph. The porblem is, the second paragraph resonated with me too.
    That wasn't a helpful answer was it Pammy? Sorry. I guess I just like your writing too much.
    I didn't think the first one was slow at all. And it didn't feel like an info dump. I got a good sense of the world.
    I know how you feel though. I just sent out two partials to two agents that had requested it. I woke up this morning with a feeling of dread ( I really did. I startled Dusty) I felt like the beginning of my novel was too slow and they're going to read one page or one sentence and toss it over their shoulder.
    I'm soooo scared.
    Anyhooo, loved the post lady.
    Have a happy writing day,
    Tamara

  6. Cyrano // October 29, 2009 at 7:14 AM  

    Hey, Barbara's comment about the long sentences in the second paragraph was spot on. That's what was off. I felt a slight hitch when I read the words but couldn't put my finger on the problem.
    Listen to Barbara. She the woman.
    Love you,
    Tam

  7. Jianne Carlo // October 29, 2009 at 7:44 AM  

    I liked the second. Go figure.

    Jianne Carlo

  8. Anonymous // October 29, 2009 at 8:35 AM  

    Okay, Pamela,

    You know I like the second one better. I'm an action girl. The first is good, but the second just resonates with me more. Yes, Barbara is right. Shortening the sentences in the second will improve it even more.
    But I feel you. This YA I'm working on has a good opening, but it's more introspective than I usually write and leaves me second guessing myself.

    Hang in there. Good post.

    Connie Gillam

  9. Dianna Love // October 29, 2009 at 9:03 AM  

    Great topic and one I feel is very important. Many editors and agents only read the first paragraph or two and decide at that point to read further. A note on openings - it's not a matter of action so much as being "active" - you want to open in a way that creates story questions for the reader and keeps building their curiosity.

    Both openings have merit and definitely give the paranormal feel, but I think I'd go with the first one.

    I would make a small suggest that you replace the word "them" in the first opening. It's not specific enough. Could be too many things that are vague. You can use that once, but after that you're assuming the reader will make the leap to whatever "thing" you're alluding to - so give a new descriptive word each time that takes your reader closer to the actual subject. The other suggestion would be to shorten your sentences. If you're going to open on an intriguing moment short sentences crank up the pace.

    I sent a note to Pam to see if it would be okay if I showed you how to take the same opening and give it more punch. I didn’t hear back so I’m thinking she may be one of you “night owls” – but I’m an early bird and have to get to work so I’m going to take the leap that knowing Pam she’ll be fine with this since she sent me a note about today’s blog.
    This is the top part of her first opening with a few edits [the words in brackets are original text that is deleted, but I didn’t have a way to show any added words so just compare to see the difference] –

    [Sometimes] In the dark of night, [when] the earth trembled under her feet.[, when the] Wind howled through the valley of skyscrapers[, when] and the fog rolled along the deserted San Francisco streets.

    Eva could feel them. Moving. Hunting. Closing in.

    [Even now, as] The city slept behind [its] closed doors and locked windows, but she sat in her car alone, [and] waiting, praying for [just one] another glimpse of him, her…it. Not human, but capable of walking among humans. Invisible to its prey.


    Kudos Pam on sharing your openings and a wonderful voice in your writing!

  10. Judy // October 29, 2009 at 9:47 AM  

    Pam, I like the first one. Building tension then pop! some action. The second opening was a little confusing to me, not understanding the setting and equipment, etc. Great job, Pam!

  11. Patrice // October 29, 2009 at 10:44 AM  

    Defintely the first paragraph! Great writing and a wonderful hook.
    Best of luck with this - it sounds like a winner.
    Patrice

  12. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 11:43 AM  

    Mary Rickson, whenever I try to seperate the reader from the writer, my internal editor kicks on and I'm usually left with a huge pile of self-doubt.

  13. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 11:45 AM  

    Barbara, thanks for you insightful comments. As you can tell, I usually have a serious love affair with long sentences.

  14. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 11:47 AM  

    Mary Marvella, like you it was hard for me to choose.

  15. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 11:49 AM  

    Tina, my love, thanks for supporting me. And you love reading which is just important as writing. Give the boys a kiss for me.

  16. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 11:51 AM  

    Cyrano, I'm so glad that you sent your work out. I'm proud of you. And you're a great writer. Eventually, you'll receive a call from an editor offering a contract.

  17. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 11:55 AM  

    Jianne, I don't think I'll ever get use to how much opinions can vary. When I send out a story, one editor will love it, and the other will shred it to pieces.

  18. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 11:56 AM  

    Connie, I knew you'd love the second one. Action. Action. Action.

  19. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 12:00 PM  

    Wow Dianna, thanks for taking the time to respond on my blog. Your comments were wonderful and I never expected that you would give me a mini edit, but I thank you for sharing your vast knowledge with me.

  20. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 12:03 PM  

    Judy, I find opening with action confusing, also, especially with a paranormal story. In my opinion, world building tends to work better with a more leisurely pace.

  21. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 12:05 PM  

    Patrice, I'm glad you like my hook. Thanks for commenting.

  22. Joanne // October 29, 2009 at 1:16 PM  

    Pam,
    I like them both!
    I also liked what Dianna did. Sometimes less is more.

  23. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 3:20 PM  

    Joanne, Diana is so right. Less is more. I have to keep reminding myself that.

  24. Scarlet Pumpernickel // October 29, 2009 at 4:45 PM  

    OMG! Pam! I'll take one of each! If I were the editor, either would have hooked me. In fact, you have we wild wanting to read this! You rock girl, and you have just proved the point that, done right either one will hook the reader. Now, when can I read more? Pretty please?

  25. Toni V.S. // October 29, 2009 at 4:55 PM  

    Looks like a combo of the two might be the best option. The first seems a little too wordy, unless it's shortened in smaller sentences (I should talk!) The second, especially the first sentence, has a lot of description I didn't understand. Wht does "tweaked-out" mean. Did you mean "radar detectors" instead of "police scanners"? How does nitrous oxide fit into the picture?

  26. Dianna Love // October 29, 2009 at 4:56 PM  

    Thanks Pam. Glad you didn't mind the mini edit. Keep writing that story!

  27. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 7:15 PM  

    Scarlett,
    Thanks for the kind words. This is just something I started playing around with. I don't even have the full story flushed out yet, but when I do I'll be sure to email you for your thoughts.

  28. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 7:17 PM  

    Toni, after reading over the comments I will definitely incorporate both beginnings. And the long sentences will have to go! One thing I learned from this is that even when I talk my sentences tend to be very long. Maybe I should shorten those also.

  29. Beth Trissel // October 29, 2009 at 7:25 PM  

    Very interesting post! I like your scenes.

  30. Pamela Varnado // October 29, 2009 at 7:54 PM  

    Beth, thanks for stopping by. I never know how to start a book. Sometimes I write the first few pages over and over. It's a nightmare.

  31. Mary Marvella // October 29, 2009 at 8:36 PM  

    Go, Pam. Looks like everyone liked your paragraphs! And you brought Dianna out!

  32. Nightingale // October 30, 2009 at 12:15 AM  

    I liked the first one. Had me hooked! Enjoyable post. Gets you thinking!

  33. Pamela Varnado // October 30, 2009 at 1:38 PM  

    Linda,
    The first one definitely resonates better with almost everyone. I originally wrote it in first person then changed it to third. Glad you liked it.

  34. Nicki Salcedo // November 5, 2009 at 8:58 PM  

    Pam, good stuff! I with everyone who likes the first ones, but Dianna's suggestion are great. I'm about to take her advice to my first paragraph! Thanks for the grat read.