I went to the Pikes Peak Writers Spring Workshop on how to hook your readers within 120 words today.
I came away with a light in the attic, a threshold cross, the perfect souffle.
The intro isn’t perfect, but NOW I HAVE A CLUE on how to open a story. This, in and of itself, is worth crowing about.
Here’s the short explanation, which will not be nearly as good as the long explanation, but it’s the best I can do:
There are things in this world that stop you in your tracks, that keep you from moving forward in your life in a dramatic way. Diagnosis of brain cancer. Shipping out to war. Harassed by a cop one too many times. Let’s call that a boulder. Find the boulder in your story, the thing that will prevent the main character from going back to the way things were. (It’s okay if he doesn’t know it for what it is.) Start there.
Note: If you find that, in the first 120 words, you have to explain why the first 120 words should hook the reader (but before her mom died of brain cancer, she murdered the main character’s father) then start there instead.
Incidentally, your reader won’t care about backstory until she cares about the character, so cut the backstory. Your goal is to have such an engrossing scene that nobody cares what the backstory is.
Got it? Here’s how I rewrote the beginning of Alien Blue. It’s not perfect (not yet), but it’s about 1000 miles closer to what it needs to be:
The goddamned aliens were coming at dawn to invade the bodies of everyone in town and kill anyone who resisted. And then the daughter Bill never knew he had walked into the bar.
He knew because she looked just like her mother.
“We’re closed,” Bill said.
The young woman’s jaw jutted out, and Bill had a flash of deja vu. The bar, as any fool could plainly see, was packed.
“Er, and there’s no room anyway,” Bill added.
The girl spotted the empty table he’d left at the back of the room. “I’m here to meet somebody,” she said. “He’s supposed to be wearing a cowboy hat with a pink band. Have you seen him?”
Bill couldn’t help touching the Twins cap covering his bald spot. “Nope.”
The girl pointed to a table near the bar. “Isn’t that him?” Bill turned his head to look, and the girl made a break for the back table.
Bill hadn’t even met his daughter, and he was going to get her killed.