Since my stories are always set in the past I always start with a header naming the location and year to get readers on board right away. Otherwise, they’ll assume it’s a contemporary setting and wonder why the characters aren’t using cell phones and other modern conveniences.
Since my protagonist is a musician, all my chapter headers are song titles (this one is from The Mamas and The Papas). It’s an easy way for me to keep track of the action is the chapters and it’s fun looking for titles that have a connection to the story. This chapter, obviously, takes place on a Monday.
As writers, we want readers to “fall into our story.” The goal for all of us is to draw the reader in. The mystery is how to do just that. An editor once told me that the writer has 25 pages to capture the reader’s interest. But for me, and for many of you, it is the first few pages of your novel that can make all the difference.
Curiosity. That’s what keeps readers turning the pages. To that end I waste no time and get right down to the business of filling their heads with questions. Here is my story opening:
If only I could learn to say no, I wouldn’t be perched on a barstool in a redneck bar, breathing secondhand smoke and pretending to flirt with men sporting baseball caps and Confederate bandanas, their eyes riveted on my Victoria’s Secret-enhanced cleavage. I wouldn’t be tricked out in a bizarre hairstyle, frosted blue eye shadow, painted-on jeans with strategically placed slashes, and a two-sizes-too-small Harley Davidson tank top.
In the bible, it says God created the heaven and earth. What a humongous contracting job it must have been to fill this unformed void, even for the all-powerful Builder of the Universe! Should the light of day and the stars of night come first, or should the waters be divided into land and sea? Decisions, decisions, decisions!
Margaret S. Hamilton
I spent three months last winter writing and revising a four-thousand-word short story, “Dressed to Kill,” set at the annual New Orleans Red Dress Run. The story had it all: a compelling setting, a repugnant villain, sympathetic heroine, and intrepid amateur sleuth, Lizzie Christopher, who unravels a dastardly plot.
Not only was it not accepted for the Sisters in Crime Fish out of Water anthology, it received scathing critiques and low scores from the judges. I was crushed.