1. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Openers and Closers.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cutecat22, Feb 1, 2015.

    I read something on another thread which got me thinking about openings and closings in relation to the whole book.

    I know there's no 'best' way or 'right' way to open and close a book (maybe there is and I just haven't come across it yet) but thinking about my own book, I realised that I started and finished the book with dialogue.

    My WIP ends with dialogue but I have no firm start yet. What do you guys favour for openers and closers and why?
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    If you mean the first line of the book, I don't care for starting a book with dialogue, but I can't really say why. I'm not sure it matters much with a novel. On the other hand, I think the opening line of a short story is very important.
     
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  3. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I do think that whichever way you choose, it has to be something that grabs your attention.
     
  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    For an opening I like to provoke a bit of a question in the readers mind. I don't like divulging all information which means I have to do a bit of a juggling act so that I don't waste time making it pseudo-mystery.

    I was reading someone's story the other day and they'd introduced the mc with their status ( as in married ) and age ( as in like 42. ) i.e. - Robert aged 42 and married opened his car door and ... ( this is just an example not a section of someone's work. )
    Though I've seen this done before in romance and non fiction novels, for me that feels like too much information either too informative like a non fiction story or in the case of a romance a reminder that I'm entering a story. Yet, I myself often have a hard time not entering that detail fast enough for the reader's liking.

    As for endings. I like something that suits the story. I like to wrap up enough loose ends that the story is satisfying to the reader but also leave some open so that the reader wishes there was more story. I'll end on dialogue, exposition, whatever strikes my fancy.
     
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  5. Lancie
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    Lancie Contributing Member

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    For an opening I'm also not keen on dialogue. It kind of feels like you're trampled in on something. It works in some cases, but generally not a fan. It's very cringe, but I want to feel like I'm starting a journey when I read something.

    Ending on dialogue I don't mind at all. It's been pointed out to me recently my endings get a bit 'stabby' so that's something I need to break out of. I prefer a definite ending, (hence stabby?) everything wrapped up though not necessarily happy with all the characters riding off into the sunset. I think if you've invested in a character then as a writer and reader you deserve some resolution.
     
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  6. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I agree with the resolution although I also agree that not all ends have to be tied satisfactorily.

    I'm not a fan of cliff hangers but I do like enough small threads left dangling to make the reader wonder if anything could happen next and what that would be.
     
  7. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    It doesn't matter to me if the first sentence is dialogue or not - but it has to make me curious. Also do agree that the first sentence alone is not as important in a novel - the first paragraph, however, had better get me interested or the book goes back on the shelf.
     
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  8. Uberwatch
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    Uberwatch Active Member

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    Openings are easy to write. They just need to attract the reader/viewer. Doesn't matter if it starts with dialogue or just a huge description of scenery. For endings, I guess it matters whether a sequel is planned or you want to add closure. For me, I have trouble on choosing a cliffhanger or one of those "walk into the sunset" endings to close the story.
     
  9. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    I was toying with an idea for a ghost story last week and thought about starting with something like.

    Daniel Webster D.O.B. 8/8/1990, D.O.D. 8/8/1990, last seen 2/3/2015.

    Not sure if it would stimulate interest yet.
     
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  10. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    So he is a ghost baby?
     
  11. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    Sort of, he grows as a normal person would until he reaches maturity and I am thinking of structuring it as an autobiography.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't mind starting with dialogue so long as it's a fairly short passage of dialogue. At some point, the reader wants to know who the characters are, where they are, and what their situation is. If you start with three pages of dialogue and I still don't have those answers, I'm going to start getting annoyed.

    This may make me seem old-fashioned, but I think description of the setting is a good place to start. Steinbeck and Hemingway both did this a lot, and I like their work. The thing about starting with description is that you can use the details you select and the general style of your prose to set the tone of the story. For example, one writer might describe an old house as a magnificent, historic treasure that just needed a bit of work to make it a community showplace, whereas another might describe the same house as a run-down, creaky old heap that should be demolished to make room for something modern. It depends on what the writer wants the reader to think of the house. That will go a long way towards determining whether the book is a somber reflection on life's impermanence (for example), or an optimistic romance. Moreover, the writer can use other tools - rhythm, word choice (high-flown language or plain speaking?), sentence lengths, etc. to control how the reader sees the setting. Many times, I've been drawn into a novel just by the writer's style, even if nothing particular happens for a whole chapter or more.

    As for endings, that's a bit more complicated. Call me pretentious (or worse) if you like, by I like to see an ending that not only finishes the overt action of the story, but resolves some aspect of symbolism. To me, that makes a powerful ending.
     
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  13. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I'm in the middle with endings. I don't like an out and out cliffhanger and I like to have most loose ends tied up and conflicts resolved but I like to leave the reader wondering "what happens next?"
     
  14. Jenurik Name
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    Jenurik Name Member

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    I can't read novels that start with dialogue. It's the anti-hook. It's about what it says of the author's attitude. The author has taken the reader's attention for granted, instead of trying to earn it. The reason so many novels open the way they do, describing a character at a place or in the process of doing something, is that it eases the reader into it until, without even realizing about it, they've identified with the character.

    A dialogue opener immediately makes me think "The author thinks I care about some insipid everyday conversation between two people he hasn't introduced yet." Such an author is unlikely to be one whose writing I'll connect with. I want to see that the author cares about my entertainment and values my time.

    Even an author who's on his twentieth bestseller whose fanbase will read everything will have new readers.

    The only exception would be something like an inventive bombshell being dropped, or some unusual and twisted situation like the protagonist being blackmailed over the phone.
     
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  15. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Interesting thoughts but I'm glad we don't all think the same!
     
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  16. Jenurik Name
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    Jenurik Name Member

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    I do feel vindicated though. I can't remember one book in the last 50 I've even looked at the first chapter previews for that opened with a line of dialogue.
     
  17. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"

    "Call me Ishmael."

    You will not get many people saying the dialogue of the above 2 novels does not grab the attention,
     
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  18. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Well, technically, neither of those openings is dialogue, but the idea of the narrator speaking directly to the reader can work, too.
     
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  19. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Have you ever noticed how it's mainly authors that discuss things like this? When was the last time you read a review from a reader (reader only, not reader/author) which said "I couldn't get past the first page because the story started with dialogue ..."

    @Jenurik Name you mention that starting with dialogue is an 'anti-hook' whereas to me, the dialogue makes me want to read on to find out who's speaking and why they've just said what they did.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2015
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  20. Jenurik Name
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    Jenurik Name Member

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    Those aren't actually dialogue. I'm fine with narration.

    If it is some kind of cool situation like the protagonist being blackmailed, or getting a creepy message on the answering machine, or something out of the ordinary said, that's a hook to me. If it's literally the very first line and it sounds like the author is starting in just a mundane conversation, I'm less likely to proceed.
     
  21. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    "Tom?" - opening line of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain.

    I'm fine with opening with dialogue, if the scene succeeds in immersing me. My own novel opens with dialogue.

    More generally, I like my novels to start in the middle of things, and end the same way.
     
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  22. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." is the only opening to a novel I actively despise. My soul perishes a little more every time I see it listed as a positive example.
     
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  23. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes this. It is a horrible opening sentence.
     
  24. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think it depends entirely what the writer is up to. Most of the time it's not going to work because it is jarring. And a lot of writer's don't realize that. But if the writer knows it's jarring he can use it to his advantage as in -
    - The opening line to Vox. ( But then again this book is a kind of gimmick unto itself covering one conversation for it's hundred and some odd pages. )

    I'm not one for rules in style but some guidelines are okay and this one is a pretty safe guideline for writers. Especially when it's already easy in narrative to miss orienting the reader on where the character is.
     
  25. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Tolstoy

    Worst opening line ever.
     

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