Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.
Her m/m erotic medical thriller Roughing It is out! This book is a sexy cross between The X Files, The Andromeda Strain, and Outbreak. Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by Cleis Press. You will also find her new novel No Restraint at Amazon. Enjoy a good, sexy read today.
Opening a novel or short story can be a bitch. Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty and other novels, had advised writers to avoid prologues and to refrain from opening a story talking about the weather. Marc Laidlaw, an author who also helped develop the game Half Life, once tweeted the following advice about opening paragraphs of fiction works: The first line of almost any story can be improved by making sure the second line is, “And then the murders began.”
Normally, a writer would not begin a sentence with the word “and”. Laidlaw purposefully included that word because it “gives my use of the phrase an extra florid, self-important note that puffs it up just enough to be suitable for narrative frivolity.” My husband and I had argued about the title for my erotic romance novel Don’t Call Me Baby. He thought I should call it And Don’t Call Me Baby. I didn’t want to partly because that word dangled and irritated me and for the same reason Laidlaw laid out. It ended up not mattering since the book didn’t sell and it’s now out of print, so there’s that. I’d always done much better with my erotic fairy tales, and I’m working on a short story collection of them right now. One of my best-sellers, Climbing Her Tower (erotic Rapunzel), lends itself very well to this exercise.
Climbing Her Tower by Elizabeth Black
The warmth of the sun glowed on Rapunzel’s face as she stood before her window, awaiting Mother’s instructions. And then the murders began.
I also write horror. This exercise doesn’t work as well with that genre because it’s dark and bleak to begin with. However, when coupled with romance novels, the fun begins. Here are some examples of best-selling romance novels with that particular sentence added to them.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. And then the murders began.
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught up by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. And then the murders began.
True Believer by Nicholas Sparks
Jeremy Marsh sat with the rest of the live studio audience, feeling unusually conspicuous. And then the murders began.
Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 1) by J. R. Ward
Darius looked around the club, taking in the teeming, half-naked bodies on the dance floor. And then the murders began.
50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James
I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. And then the murders began.
Bared To You (Crossfire Book 1) by Sylvia Day
“We should head to a bar and celebrate”. And then the murders began.
Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard
The poet stood next to the bridge and watched as the young woman approached. And then the murders began.
You may see the point behind this exercise by now. Many writers, in particular fledging ones, have difficulties with exposition and telling instead of showing when beginning their stories. They ramble about the weather or describing backgrounds or pontificating about a character’s history or inner thoughts without providing a hook for the reader. Without a hook, your reader won’t continue reading. She will get bored and toss your book aside like so much garbage. You need to grab the reader in the first paragraph – nay, in the first sentence. That’s why agents and publishers often ask for the first chapter or first five pages of your manuscript when you submit to them. They want to see your hook. If you don’t have one or if it is weak, that is one reason you likely won’t get that joyous letter offering representation or a publishing contract. You need action and vibrancy to pique someone’s attention.
Sometimes, a writer’s story doesn’t really begin until the third or fourth page. If that’s the case with your story, delete the first few pages and begin your story where the action begins. Not only must you engage the reader from the onset, you must keep that reader engaged throughout every chapter of your book. Books are like fractals. There should be a hook at the beginning and end of each chapter as well as at the beginning of the book. The beginning hook holds the reader’s attention and the end-of-chapter hook encourages that eager reader to continue reading into the next chapter. Clayton Purdom described Laidlaw’s exercise in his article for A. V. Club when he wrote “the sudden introduction of murder provides a contrast with tone-setting exposition or an unexpected development to its more direct action.”
“And then the murders began” is a funny and effective way to get the point across. Watch your reader jump out of her seat with excitement over your works. Don’t let her sigh and become bored with exposition. That way, you’ll both attract and hold readers.