Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Opening Sentences

Which one of these would make you read on - A or B?

She clung to sleep tenaciously, wrapped in beguiling dreams. It was explained to her afterwards that they weren't dreams at all, only reality breaking through the days of confusion as she rose from deep unconsciousness to full awareness, but she found that difficult to accept.
With her sharp little face set in lines of dissatisfaction, the twelve year old girl sat up and searched for her knickers among the forest leaves. It had finally begun to dawn on her that sex with Bobby Franklyn wasn't all it could be.

I'd have said B. We start right in there, it's shocking, dramatic and I don't know where it's going next but I want to find out. A doesn't tell me anything about 'her', it could be about anyone, and be set anywhere.

They're actually both from the same novel, The Dark Room by Minette Walters. A is the opening sentences of Chapter 1. Did she - or her editor - think it was a bit dull, a bit nothing? I may be completely wrong but my guess is that Walters decided she needed a more gripping start and provided a prologue to supply one. Because B is the opening sentences of the Prologue and after the unnamed twelve year old girl discovers a body on the next page, we never hear about her or Bobby again.

Now, I'm not saying that you need a prologue, but think of your opening sentences. Would they grab a reader in the same way B does?


wilburwip said...

i have to say i preferred the first - but then i think i'm more interested in finding out what's going on in people's heads than what's going on in their lives.

wilburwip said...

- hope that didn't sound curt! i should perhaps have said that i personally prefer novels that focus more on the inner (subconscious?) life of the characters. but i agree about grabbing the reader and it would be intriguing to know whether Walters did tack the ...prologue on or had it in mind the whole time

Sarah Duncan said...

There's always one...

Seriously, I know where you're coming from on preference, but for the genre - thriller - I think B is much grabbier than A. Also, A continues in the same vein for the rest of the page and it's quite hard to be engaged with the character until she fully wakes up.

I wish I knew too, but I'm sure it's there for the grab-the-reader start. But not knowing is why I often choose extracts from my own work to illustrate things. It's not because I'm terminally vain (no, really) but because I know why I made the choices I did.

Jenny Haddon said...

Have to admit that I would not have read on from either.

The first one throws me all around the mat on when we are: there are three distinct times referred to in the space of two sentences:
1 the sensation of the moment of reluctant waking
2 an afterwards, when 'she' receives information
3 a different and longer afterwards, when 'she' rejects that interpretation
This sort of writing gives me motion sickness.

The second one makes me dislike the sharp faced pre-teen and also, sadly, the authorial voice that seems to gloat over her (by implication) deserved disappointment.

It really is a sort of chemistry, isn't it?

Minnie said...

Jenny Haddon has expressed almost exactly my own responses - now that IS unsettling!
The author loses me with the first. I, too, find such descriptions irritating: rather than involve the reader, asking her to make up her own mind, this type of intro merely shakes her up (it reminds me of the ending of Maggie O'Farrell's 'After You'd Gone' - a book I disliked). The impression left is that the writer either (1) enjoys playing silly games with people, or (2) needs a better editor. Or possibly even both ...
B's so nasty it would have guaranteed my discarding the book (but that's my own prejudice kicking in: I cannot abide descriptions of horror/cruelty/vile people that aren't stark, pared-down to the basics - otherwise a form of sadistic voyeurism slithers in ... ugh!

Sarah Duncan said...

To be fair to Walters, the character is coming out of a coma so possibly she was trying to convey that dream-like confusion. And I agree that B is pretty nasty in tone, but suspect it's exactly what many readers of the genre like.

I was trying to remember what had made me buy this book in the first place, had I actually read either the opening or the prologue, had either one affected my decision. I think - and it was ages ago - I bought it on the basis of having enjoyed her first book, so the respective merits of A and B were completely irrelevant. Hey ho.