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To Great Beginnings!

04 Feb
I just liked this picture. Photo courtesy of:http://www.flickr.com/photos/cloppy/8444077598/

I just liked this picture. Photo courtesy of:http://www.flickr.com/photos/cloppy/8444077598/

Writing the beginning to a story is hard. There are so many things that have to be just right. Are you starting your story in the right place? Will it grab the reader’s attention? Is there too much detail and description or not enough? Is there conflict? But most of all, will your beginning make the reader want to keep reading to chapter two and beyond?

One of the problems a lot of writers run into is where they start their story. Every story and character has a background and the writer knows this world so well and they want to share it, so the reader can experience everything the writer intended. However, too much detail about the setting or character can slow down the story. The reader doesn’t need to know everything the character has done leading up to the starting point, weave it into the story. Too much setting has the same potential to slowing down the story. Give enough setting to make the story come to life and let the reader feel as though they’re with the character. If the first five or so pages consist mainly of describing the school and playground where the main character attended fifteen years prior, that’s a good clue that rewriting may be in the near future.

A lot of craft books talk about creating conflict and showing what’s at stake. That’s something that’s extremely hard to do in the first few pages, because a lot of times, the character doesn’t know enough about their situation to realize what’s at stake, unless you’re writing a crime novel that starts off in the middle of a burglary gone bad. With bullets flying and a police chase, we can all see what’s at stake. However, most other genres don’t have this luxury. The writer has to be creative and come up with ways to integrate it into the beginning without being so blatant. Though, of course, there are exceptions.

Research has shown that if a reader reads through the first paragraph, they’ll read the first page. After reading the first page, if you’ve kept their curiosity  they’ll continue through the first chapter. If the story holds their interest and they want to know what happens to the characters, they’ll read the second chapter and beyond. This is what every writer wants, someone to read their book from start to finish because they genuinely care about the characters and their situation. If large blocks of description interrupt the flow of the story, they’ll skim over it. Use dialogue to interrupt description. Move the story along. Go for emotional impact. Create a connection between your readers and your characters, give the reader a reason to care what happens, particularly in the beginning.

I think we’ve all read books that don’t follow the rules. I know that I tend to skim if there’s more than a few paragraphs of nothing but description without a break. It doesn’t matter what it’s describing; a dress, a new car or a high school. Unless you’ve got a killer description that somehow becomes a character in and of itself, it doesn’t move the story along. It lets the reader see what you see, but you can lose them if you don’t pick the story up again. Remember to show, not tell.

A few little things that you can watch for are:

  • Overuse of adverbs – examples are lazily, slowly, happily, etc. Show in your dialogue instead of telling the reader what and how the character responds. A few adverbs are fine, but if every dialogue tag has one, that may be something to watch for.
  • Pacing and flow – does the pace of your story make sense? Does it flow from one scene to another? Is the reader going to have and stop and go back to see what happened? For example, if your story starts with a daydream, will the reader know when real life comes back into play?
  • Give life to your settings. Make the reader feel a part of the world you’ve created. For example, “it was a small town, like any other.” Umm… I’ve been to lots of small towns and they were all different. Give the reader a little more to go on, weave it into the story with dialogue and action. Keep it moving.
  • Keep your dialogue clear. Show the personalities of your characters. Make sure the readers knows who’s talking. Make them interesting and let them fly.

In doing research for this post, one of the most common things I read was that the first five pages can make or break your manuscript. I guess I’m not surprised considering one of the books I use frequently is Noah Lukeman’s, “The First Five Pages.” He’s a literary agent and his book is quite helpful when zeroing in on problem areas. I’d highly recommend it.

As part of the workshops that we’re offering this month, I’m going to offer critiques of the first 500 words of your novel or work in progress. If you’re up for it, copy and paste the first 500 words (give a take a few, if you need to finish a sentence or paragraph, feel free) in the comments section and myself or one of the other lovely Hugs and Chocolate writers will critique your work. Please tell us your genre and feel free to ask any questions that you may have, we’re here to help you.

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35 Comments

Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Craft, Critique, Writing

 

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35 responses to “To Great Beginnings!

  1. tazeinmirzasaad

    February 4, 2013 at 4:37 am

    I have nominated you for A Reality Blog Award! Congrats! Please visit this link:http://transcendingbordersblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/reality-blog-award/

     
  2. Connie Cockrell

    February 4, 2013 at 7:11 am

    I’ll take you up on the 500 word beginning. The working title of the book is Recall.

    Chapter 1
    Elaine felt numb. That was good: it was the effect she was going for. She’d been fending off would be suitors all evening, her short, light brown hair curled attractively around a sweet, round face. She looked younger than she was, until a guy looked into her light blue eyes. There was trouble there; despair and fear. Once they looked into her eyes, they backed off at her “No thank you”.
    She paid for her last drink and got down from the barstool. That fear, and the anger she’d been living with for the past few months, was dull enough to stand now. She felt like she could face her apartment.
    She hesitated in the open door of the bar, looking up and down the slightly busy street. The streetlights were bright enough but still, there were dark pools of the unknown between the lights. She stepped out of the doorway and let the door close behind her. She only lived a couple of blocks away. There were enough people on the street that she didn’t feel too exposed. She started for home, walking quickly; there was no point in being out here too long.
    Elaine felt, more than heard, the movement of air behind her.
    “Elaine, so nice to see you out and about this fine evening.”
    She whirled around; already her heart was beating loud enough for him to hear.
    “Leave me alone!” she screamed at him.
    She turned and ran for home but he was fast and she could hear his running footsteps catching up to her. In a panic, she darted across the street, seeing a car coming out of the corner of her eye.
    I’ll dash in front of this car and he’ll be left behind.
    She felt the car hit her and wondered, Wow, that didn’t hurt at all!

    Chapter 2
    Elaine took a bottle of water from the cooler on her Grandma Betty’s front porch. She held the still wet, ice cold bottle against her temple; the cold felt good and helped ease the headache she’d had ever since the funeral service started. She’d wept and wept until she’d used up all of her tissues. The graveside service was just as bad. She couldn’t reconcile the beautiful spring day, the lilacs, Grandma’s favorite, in bloom and Grandma Betty not there to enjoy them with her.
    She made her way into the house and met her mother in the front hallway, greeting people as they came in.
    “Elaine, I’m so sorry,” her mother, Sarah, said as she gave her daughter a hug.
    “Mom, I’m the one who should be saying I’m sorry to you. She was your mom after all,” Elaine hugged her back, feeling the warmth and love she always felt from her mother. She looked at her mom, loving that she still had the same short hair cut she’d always had, now going gray.
    Her mother cupped Elaine’s face with both hands. “Are you alright?”
    “Just a headache, mom, I’ll be fine.”

     
    • Jamie Raintree

      February 4, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      Wow, Connie! This is fantastic! You hooked me right away and I was riveted all the way through. I’m already wondering what she’s trying to numb and who is after her. I honestly don’t think I have much to suggest. You do a great job making us care about the character right off the bat, I have questions about her that I’m ready to continue reading to find out the answers to, and you’ve included enough sensory details to make it feel real. Great job!

       
    • Rebecca

      February 4, 2013 at 11:20 pm

      Connie, thank you so much for submitting your work. I know that took a lot of courage 🙂 I think you’re off to a great start here! I’m very curious about why Elaine is numb and who she’s running from. Then the second chapter shows us a different Elaine and I want to know if this is before or after the car accident. So many questions here! I love it! Your beginning is good and I’ve made comments in the areas where I think you could make it stronger. The comments I make are suggestions, please use what you want and feel free to discard the rest.Thanks again for posting your work and letting us read and critique it. I can’t wait to read the rest 🙂 I’ve put my comments in parentheses after the affected sentence. Please feel free to ask if you have any questions!

      Chapter 1
      Elaine felt numb. (Be careful of filter words, like “felt”. Courtney did a great post on this a few months ago) That was good: it was the effect she was going for. (I’d separate these two, so the sentence doesn’t feel so wordy. Maybe give the second sentence in context as to why she’s numb. For example, if it’s the alcohol, you could say something like: “That was good. The alcohol had done its job.”)She’d been fending off would be (would-be) suitors all evening, her short, light brown hair curled attractively around a sweet, round face. (POV. Is she describing herself here? Describing physical characteristics in third person is a challenge, because we can only see what the character sees, if in limited third.)She looked younger than she was, until a guy looked into her light blue eyes. There was trouble there; despair and fear. (Does the trouble age her eyes? What do they see exactly that makes them wary? Is it trouble they see or despair and fear? I think you could really make an impact with this sentence with a little clarification in wording.)Once they looked into her eyes, they backed off at her “No thank you”. (Perhaps change the wording of “they back off at her.” Do they back away from her with a “no thank you,” or do they just back away?)
      She paid for her last drink and got down from the barstool. That fear, and the anger she’d been living with for the past few months, was dull enough to stand now. (The fear and anger were dull enough to stand? Or they were dull enough for her to stand?)She felt like she could face her apartment.
      She hesitated in the open door of the bar, looking up and down the slightly busy street. The streetlights were bright enough but still, there were dark pools of the unknown between the lights. (Love this sentence and imagery!) She stepped out of the doorway and let the door close behind her. She only lived a couple of blocks away. There were enough people on the street that she didn’t feel too exposed. She started for home, walking quickly; there was no point in being out here too long.
      Elaine felt, more than heard, the movement of air behind her.
      “Elaine, so nice to see you out and about this fine evening.”
      She whirled around; already her heart was beating loud enough for him to hear.
      “Leave me alone!” she screamed at him.
      She turned and ran for home but he was fast and she could hear his running footsteps catching up to her. In a panic, she darted across the street, seeing a car coming out of the corner of her eye.
      I’ll dash in front of this car and he’ll be left behind. (I think you could really add some tension here by showing us her desire to cross the street before the car gets there through her actions, rather than a thought.)
      She felt the car hit her and wondered (did she think this or wonder about it?), Wow, that didn’t hurt at all!

      Chapter 2
      Elaine took a bottle of water from the cooler on her Grandma Betty’s front porch. She held the still wet, ice-cold bottle against her temple; (I think you could separate these two and be safe)the cold felt good and helped ease the headache she’d had ever since the funeral service started. She’d wept and wept until she’d used up all of her tissues. The graveside service was just as bad. She couldn’t reconcile the beautiful spring day, the lilacs, Grandma’s favorite, in bloom and Grandma Betty not there to enjoy them with her. (Perhaps a little reworking of this sentence would help it flow better. For example: “She couldn’t reconcile the beautiful spring day and the lilacs in bloom, her grandma’s favorite flower, and grandma not there to enjoy them with her.”)
      She made her way into the house and met her mother in the front hallway, greeting people as they came in.
      “Elaine, I’m so sorry,” her mother, Sarah, said as she gave her daughter a hug.
      “Mom, I’m the one who should be saying I’m sorry to you. She was your mom after all,” Elaine hugged her back, feeling the warmth and love she always felt from her mother. She looked at her mom, loving that she still had the same short hair cut she’d always had, now going gray.
      Her mother cupped Elaine’s face with both hands. “Are you alright?”
      “Just a headache, mom, I’ll be fine.”

       
      • Connie Cockrell

        February 5, 2013 at 7:20 am

        Thanks Rebecca! Nice catches in the opening. I’m revising this MS now and these suggestions are just what I need.

         
      • Rebecca

        February 5, 2013 at 9:42 am

        Awesome! I’m glad to have been able to help 🙂

         
    • Courtney Koschel

      February 5, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      Hey Connie! Thanks so much for posting 🙂 Putting your stuff out there is never easy, so I want to commend you for being the first one!! I’m going to critique, and I’ll put my comments in brackets and capitalize them. It may be a little difficult to read, but let me know if you have any questions.

      Chapter 1
      Elaine felt numb. [THINK ABOUT OPENING WITH A STRONGER SENTENCE. INSTEAD OF TELLING US HOW SOMEONE FEELS, SHOW IT THROUGH HER ACTIONS. SHE’S AT A BAR, SHE’S THINKING ABOUT POTENTIAL SUITORS, BUT WHAT IS SHE DOING THAT MAKES HER NUMB? TWIRLING THE STRAW IN HER DRINK, RESTING HER HEAD IN HER OTHER HAND. DOES SHE SIGH? CLOSE HER EYES? GIVE US MORE VISUALS.] That was good: it was the effect she was going for. She’d been fending off would be suitors all evening, [DOES THIS HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH HER BEING NUMB? MAYBE GO INTO A LITTLE MORE DETAIL HERE. NOT TOO MUCH. JUST A FEW WELL PLACED SENTENCES] her short, light brown hair curled attractively around a sweet, round face. She looked younger than she was, until a guy looked into her light blue eyes. [THIS READS A LITTLE CONFUSING TO ME. WHAT IS IT ABOUT HER EYES THAT MAKES GUYS WANT TO RUN? AND THIS KIND OF CONFLICTS WITH THE PREVIOUS MENTION OF HER CHASING OFF WOULD BE SUITORS.] There was trouble there; despair and fear. [ARE DESPAIR AND FEAR THE ONLY TROUBLESOME THINGS ABOUT HER EYES? HOW DOES IT LOOK? WHAT WOULD ONE COMPARE IT TO?] Once they looked into her eyes, they backed off at her “No thank you”. [DO THEY ACT AFRAID? HOW DO THEY SAY IT? INSTEAD OF TELLING US THIS, MAYBE HAVE A GUY COME UP TO HER AND SHOW US THIS THROUGH AN INTERACTION. THAT WOULD REALLY HELP GIVE US A BETTER IDEA OF ELAINE.]
      She paid for her last drink and got down from the barstool. That fear, and the anger she’d been living with for the past few months, was dull enough to stand now. She felt like she could face her apartment. [THIS MAKES ME WONDER WHAT’S IN HER APARTMENT THAT’S SO SCARY. AND I HAVE A LOT OF QUESTIONS ABOUT ELAINE AND HER PROBLEMS, WHICH IS A GOOD THING. YOU DON’T HAVE TO GIVE AWAY HER SECRET HERE, BUT WHAT IF YOU JUST GAVE US A HINT. SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE FEAR, BUT YOU CAN BE AMBIGUOUS.]
      She hesitated in the open door of the bar, looking up and down the slightly busy street. [YOU CAN REALLY BUILD THE TENSION HERE A BIT MORE. IF SHE’S REALLY PARANOID, THEN SHE’S GOING TO NOTICE EVERYTHING ABOUT THE STREET. ARE THERE PEOPLE? WHAT ARE THEY DOING? GIVE US SOME MORE SENSE OF SETTING.] The streetlights were bright enough but still, there were dark pools of the unknown between the lights. [BUILD TENSION HERE BY GIVING US A GLIMPSE OF WHAT’S GOING ON IN HER MIND. WHAT DOES SHE THINK MAY BE THERE? MAYBE SHE STARTS THINKING ABOUT SOMETHING CREEPY, AND SHE HAS TO TELL HERSELF TO STOP, OR SHE’LL FREAK HERSELF OUT. SOMETHING LIKE THAT.] She stepped out of the doorway and let the door close behind her. She only lived a couple of blocks away. There were enough people on the street that she didn’t feel too exposed. She started for home, walking quickly; there was no point in being out here too long.
      Elaine felt, more than heard, the movement of air behind her.
      “Elaine, so nice to see you out and about this fine evening.” [THIS FEELS FORMAL. KEEP YOUR DIALOGUE NATURAL AND ORGANIC.]
      She whirled around; already her heart was beating loud enough for him to hear. [HOW DOES SHE KNOW THIS? SHE’S NOT IN HIS HEAD. MAKE SURE TO KEEP IT IN CLOSE THIRD PERSON.]
      “Leave me alone!” she screamed at him. [WHO IS THIS PERSON? THIS IS A REALLY STRONG RESPONSE TO SOMEONE WHO IS JUST SAYING HELLO. YOU CAN ADD MORE TENSION HERE BY DESCRIBING HIM, HIS VOICE, WHAT WAS HE DOING THAT MADE HER REACT LIKE THIS. IF THAT’S PART OF THE MYSTERY, THAT’S FINE. YOU DON’T HAVE TO GIVE IT AWAY, BUT GIVE THE READER JUST A HINT MORE INTO HER REACTION. WE SEE HER SCREAM AND RUN, WHICH IS AN EXTERNAL TURNING POINT, BUT WHAT HAPPENS INTERNALLY?]
      She turned and ran for home but he was fast and she could hear his running footsteps catching up to her. [MAYBE REWORD THIS TO: SHE TURNED AND RAN FOR HIM, BUT HIS FOOTSTEPS POUNDED ON THE PAVEMENT, LOUDER WITH EACH STEP HE TOOK UNTIL THEY WERE ALMOST ON TOP OF ME. — THIS WILL GIVE THE READER MORE OF A SENSE OF BEING WITH HER AS SHE’S GOING THROUGH THIS. PULL OUT THE SENSES] In a panic, she darted across the street, seeing a car coming out of the corner of her eye.
      I’ll dash in front of this car and he’ll be left behind. [GIVE US DETAIL. WHAT’S SHE THINKING? IS SHE SAD? DO TEARS STREAM DOWN HER CHEEKS? WHAT DOES THE CAR LOOK LIKE? DOES TIME SLOW? REALLY PUT THE READER THERE WITH IMAGERY, SOUNDS, SMELLS.]
      She felt the car hit her and wondered, Wow, that didn’t hurt at all! [MAYBE CHANGE WONDERED TO REALIZED OR SOMETHING DIFFERENT. ALSO, YOU CAN REALLY PULL THE TENSION OUT OF THIS CHAPTER MORE. GIVE US A PICTURE OF THE SETTING, THE CHARACTERS. RIGHT NOW THE ONLY THING WE KNOW IS ELAINE IS AT A BAR, AND SHE GETS HIT BY A CAR IN AN ATTEMPT TO GET AWAY FROM SOME GUY. THE READER HAS A LOT OF QUESTIONS RIGHT NOW, WHICH IS A GOOD THING, BUT WHAT’S LACKING HERE IS THE EMOTION. ACTION IS GREAT, BUT EMOTION WITH ACTION IS BETTER. THE READER NEEDS TO CARE WHY ELAINE IS RUNNING FROM THIS RANDOM STRANGER OR ELSE THEY’LL JUST BE CONFUSED.]

      Chapter 2
      Elaine took a bottle of water from the cooler on her Grandma Betty’s front porch. [THE TIMELINE IS A LITTLE JARRING. WE WENT FROM HER GETTING HIT BY A CAR TO PULLING WATER OUT OF A COOLER. IS THIS A FLASHBACK? DID SHE SURVIVE BEING HIT BY A CAR? YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS RIGHT NOW, BUT YOU NEED SOME SORT OF TRANSITION SO THE READER ISN’T CONFUSED.] She held the still wet, ice cold bottle against her temple; the cold felt good and helped ease the headache she’d had ever since the funeral service started. [TWO THINGS ABOUT THIS SENTENCE: FIRST, MAYBE REWORD IT SO IT REDAS, “SHE HELD THE STILL WET, ICE COLD BOTTLE AGAINST HER TEMPLE; THE COLD HELPED EASE THE HEADACHE SHE’D HAD EVER THE FUNERAL.” TAKE OUT “STARTED” BECAUSE IT READS LIKE THE FUNERAL IS STILL GOING ON. SECOND, DOES SHE NOT THINK HAVING THE HEADACHES START AT THE FUNERAL IS WEIRD? DOES SHE WORRY ABOUT HER HEADACHES? TRY TO RATIONALIZE WHY SHE’S HAVING THEM?] She’d wept and wept until she’d used up all of her tissues. The graveside service was just as bad. She couldn’t reconcile the beautiful spring day, the lilacs, Grandma’s favorite, in bloom and Grandma Betty not there to enjoy them with her. [YOU CAN GO DEEPER WITH THIS. REALLY PAINT A PICTURE FOR THE READER. HOW DID ELAINE FEEL? SHOW US. A REALLY GOOD WAY TO EVOKE EMOTION IS TO HAVE THE MAIN CHARACTER REMEMBER SOMETHING. SO MAYBE ELAINE REMEMBERS A PARTICULAR MOMENT SHE HAD WITH HER GRANDMOTHER, MAYBE THEY WERE PICKING FLOWERS, OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT.]
      She made her way into the house and met her mother in the front hallway, greeting people as they came in.
      “Elaine, I’m so sorry,” her mother, Sarah, said as she gave her daughter a hug. [IS SHE CRYING? HOW DOES SHE SMELL TO ELAINE? DOES SHE WEAR THE SAME PERFUME AS HER GRANDMOTHER? GIVE US MORE HINTS. YOU DON’T HAVE TO OVERDO IT, BUT A FEW WELL PLACED WORDS AND SENTENCES CAN GIVE IT MORE FEELING.]
      “Mom, I’m the one who should be saying I’m sorry to you. She was your mom after all,” Elaine hugged her back, feeling the warmth and love she always felt from her mother. [ELABORATE. SHOW US THIS.] She looked at her mom, loving that she still had the same short hair cut she’d always had, now going gray.
      Her mother cupped Elaine’s face with both hands. “Are you alright?” [IS ELAINE DOING SOMETHING THAT WOULD MAKE HER MOTHER WORRY? THIS SEEMS A LITTLE OUT OF PLACE. MAYBE ELAINE GRIMACES OR SOMETHING? GASPS AT A SHARP PAIN IN HER HEAD. SOMETHING SO WE KNOW SHE’S HURTING.]
      “Just a headache, mom, I’ll be fine.”

      I hope you aren’t overwhelmed with the comments! Please, take what’s useful and discard the rest.

      A few overall things: I think you’re off to a really good start, Connie. I think you can really pull the tension out by engaging the senses. Pull in all of them; how do things taste? What does she hear? You don’t have to do this everywhere, but sprinkle some of this imagery throughout. This will really put the reader there. Paint the images for them.

      Maybe add in more setting and scenery. I don’t have a good sense of where the main character is and what she’s going through. We seem to be watching a lot of things happen to Elaine instead of experiencing them with her. You can change this by showing us more of the story through action.

      Also, really work on building characterization in the beginning. This is essential so the reader cares and is emotionally invested in your character.

      Thank you for allowing me to read your sample! Best of luck to you 🙂

       
  3. Vaughn Roycroft

    February 4, 2013 at 7:47 am

    This is the hardest part of it all for me. I have rewritten the opening to my first manuscript more times than I care to admit to here. I dreamed my second opening (or was it third?), and I loved it. But my writing mentor, Cathy Yardley, pointed out that it reads like a prologue. Not that prologues are bad. There have been some great ones. But ultimately it was stuff that happens far before the inciting incident. My core writerly beta readers agreed. Cathy coached me to at least imply what the story question of my trilogy was going to be (yeah, had to get a firm handle on story question, too). As far as showing what was at stake, I wanted to at least give a glimpse at my ‘yardstick’ (the story element that helps readers ‘measure’ progress toward the stakes).

    The next version of the opening I wrote was too far into the story, and Cathy talked me down from cutting it back too far. So I wrote it again. All new prose, and a greatly revised scene (Yeah, it may not be perfect, but I’d be lost without all the help I’ve gotten from Cathy and my betas). Fingers crossed. I’ve got about 500K relying on this first few thousand words.

    It’s like opening a restaurant but your door is on an alley, just off the busy street, and only has a porthole for a window. You have to lure potential customers to first peek in the window, then come into the vestibule. They have to like what they experience. Is it warm? How’s the lighting? Does the smell entice? Is it going to be bland fare, or exotic and exciting? We want them to come again and again, to hang out in our world, to experience everything we have on our ever expanding writerly menu. It’s that important. And what’s the failure rate for new restaurants? Yikes. 😉

    Sorry for the long comment. It’s a topic that’s often on my mind. I agree about the Lukeman book, and would add Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story to the reading list of anyone struggling with this issue. Both books helped me a lot. Great job, Rebecca!

     
    • Jamie Raintree

      February 4, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      Lol! Perfect analogy!

       
    • Rebecca

      February 4, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      I know exactly what you mean, Vaughn. I’ve rewritten my beginning so many time that I’ve lost track.of the number. It’s really difficult to put what’s at stake so early in the story or even give a hint of what’s to come.
      That’s a very good analogy. There has to be something there to pull the reader into the story and keep them there. Hopefully, the aroma of all of ours will be irresistible 🙂 I have Cron’s book too, I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s very good and I’d highly recommend it too. Thanks for reading and commenting!

       
  4. bwtaylor75

    February 4, 2013 at 9:19 am

    A problem many beginning writers face is not understanding their story enough yet to know where it should begin. Then there’s the whole confidence issue which can have them second guessing every beginning they ever attempted. I know, I went through both. I’m sure many of us have. The key, at least for me, was taking a look at my writing style and asking what I wanted to accomplish with not only my beginning, but the story as a whole. Unfortunately, this is something each writer will have to discover for themselves. Everyone will have an opinion–the key word being opinion, not fact, truth, or gospel. The simple truth is we should do what’s best for our story. Period. The problem often lies in discovering what actually is best for our story and drowning out any other voices, doubts, or fears. This often takes time is better recognized through experience.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but if the subject of beginnings bothered me I would find out as much about them as possible. We should educate and arm ourselves with new techniques and knowledge. Then we can apply whatever techniques and knowledge we found to work to our writing. Much of the writing process depends on swagger. If you don’t know about swagger, you better call somebody! 🙂 Don’t just do something, OWN IT. Most successful people don’t walk to the beat of someone else’s drum, they walk to the beat of their own. So why do so many writers write to the beat of someone else’s drum? It doesn’t make much sense.

    Great topic, and post. You took me away from my blog post, Rebecca! I am so late posting it too. I guess it takes an awesome writer to evoke an emotional response out of a reader, right? 😉

     
    • Rebecca

      February 4, 2013 at 11:48 pm

      Brian, I’d encourage everyone to read as much as they can about the subject. There’s no way I can cover everything in a blog post and I’ll freely admit that I’m still learning too. I’ve started my story too soon, too late and everywhere in between. It took some time for me to figure out my starting point and then I still got feedback that I was starting in the wrong place. However, I’m sticking to this start, for reasons that the reader won’t know until later.

      You’re right. There is no surefire way or place to start a story that is correct for everyone. It’s up to the story and the storyteller. The main thing I wanted people to take away from this is to get the reader into the story as soon as possible. I’ve read and critiqued so many manuscripts that don’t pull me in and it’s hard to keep reading. I’ve read books that start off with an entire first chapter describing a setting. There’s no action, no dialogue and no hint of the story to come. The question comes to mind, how many chapters do I give the writer to engage me before I put their book down?

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Brian! I don’t know about an awesome writer, but I do sense some emotional responses and that makes me happy, even if they don’t agree 🙂

       
  5. Sevigne

    February 4, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    The one thing I would like to add is that it’s fine if a story opens slowly. Not every story needs conflict on the first page, or even the first five. What every story needs, regardless of genre, and how a story is told, is “interest.” Interest comes from a tension the writer creates for the reader, in which the suspension of disbelief places reader in the excruciating position of not knowing and wanting to know. This is what makes the reader want to keep reading. This is difficult and subtle and it takes time to figure out. The only reason I add this, is because following rules is not really the answer to great storytelling. I’m not suggest there are no rules to craft. But how a writer tells the story is deeply connected with the writer’s reason for wanting to tell it. That wanting is the writer’s voice and should never be stifled by an external rule that somebody else made up because it worked for them.

    It’s also fine in my book, Vaughn, if a story opens with an event before the so-called “inciting incident” revealed James Scott Bell says the inciting incident actually happens before the story we’re reading begins. Which only goes to show that different experts have different opinions about the importance of where it occurs. Sometimes you have to trust your instincts over your mentor’s. In the end, it’s your story. If every artist did only what their mentor believed was right there would never be anything original or new. The new is what does not already exist and its very nature goes against the rules that came before it.

     
    • Rebecca

      February 5, 2013 at 12:08 am

      Sevigne, yes, it’s perfectly okay if a story starts slowly. Mine does and I’m sticking to it. However, there has to be something there for the reader to want to keep reading; call it tension, conflict, or interest. It’s that little nugget that keeps the reader turning the page. That’s the main point I wanted to make. There is no hard and fast rule that will work for everyone.

      I recently read a book where the entire first chapter was the description of an Ivy League college campus. It described the quad, the way the bricks had ivy growing over them, the layout of the campus and I don’t know what else because I stopped reading and skipped ahead. The next chapter described the mc’s room. I think I was fifteen pages in before there was any dialogue. If I hadn’t paid money for it, I would have stopped reading after the first chapter. As it was, I made it less than halfway through the book before I put it away. I kept waiting for the promised action to happen, but when it did, it was slow and melodramatic. The writer didn’t keep their promise.

      There are no golden rules to getting published, whether traditional or self. However, I firmly believe in giving the reader a reason to keep turning the page (whether through action or dialogue). Thanks so much for reading and commenting! It’s truly appreciated and welcomed 🙂

       
      • Sevigne

        February 6, 2013 at 1:28 pm

        I would say that interest, or tension, and conflict are not the same thing. A great deal in today’s “school of writing” talks of conflict and showing it early on. Hardly anyone speaks of setting up for the reader something much more subtle, which is that fulcrum of not knowing and wanting to know. Perhaps anticipation might be a more accessible word to describe this fulcrum point.

        That’s the reason I brought up interest. If the story is “interesting” to the reader, that is, there is that tension between not knowing and wanting to know (assuming the storyline is compelling), then conflict will achieve its desired effect, which is emotional in its impact (whether pleasant or unpleasant). Interest is rooted in “suspension of disbelief”; whereas conflict must be shown as something “realistic” to the reader’s experience.

        I read Turgenev’s short story Yermolay and the Miller’s Wife this morning. He manages in the second paragraph (the first being three sentences) to create tension simply by describing what it means to set off for ‘cover’ (in a wood). As the reader I wanted to know what happens next, sentence after sentence. It’s fashionable these days to say writers of the 19th century are boring, but I find that master writers like Turgenev have much to teach me about writing well, even though I write fantasy.

         
      • Rebecca

        February 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm

        Of course interest, tension, and conflict aren’t the same thing. However, they achieve the same goal – to draw the reader into the story and keep them reading. You have to get the reader’s attention and keep them reading. Unfortunately, writers have a lot of competition, not only from other books, but everything the Internet and life has to offer. You and I are both saying the same thing, but in terms of how to do it, we differ. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

        Studying the classics is something every reader and writer should do. It’s great that you’re learning from them and I hope it serves you well. However, in today’s marketplace, there are some things that a writer doesn’t have the luxury of doing anymore. I’m working toward publication and the information contained in this post was gathered from craft books, agent and author blogs, articles and talking with the writing community in general. I put it in my own words and presented it as an overview of how to write a great beginning in today’s market. Every writer makes the choice about how they want to present their work to the world and follows their own path.

         
    • Courtney Koschel

      February 6, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      While I agree that an author shouldn’t always follow a rule, I do think the beginning of a story needs conflict and tension. Different agents and editors have different preferences about where the inciting incident should take place. As a reader and an editor, if I don’t know where the story is headed in the first twenty five pages, then there’s a problem. Just because something is interesting and not boring doesn’t mean it’s correct. There has to be a driving factor to push the story forward or else the reader just flounders. They read along, they’re entertained, but the story and plot aren’t moving.

      If a writer is writing as a hobby, then they can do whatever they want. If a writer is writing to pursue publication, they can still be original while following somewhat of a formula. If a writer does it well, then it won’t read like a formula at all–it will read smooth, organic, and the way a story should read. Writing is an art, but if a writer is pursuing publication with a publisher, then they have to remember that it’s still a business. If they want to try something experimental, then they should query someone who is open to experimental writing.

       
      • Sevigne

        February 6, 2013 at 10:17 pm

        I defined interest as tension (twice). That aside, there’s a big difference between having twenty-five pages to set up the protagonist’s dilemma than attempting to putting major conflict on the first page or even the first five pages. Conflict is a big word for me and therefore I expect big things, important things, in the story, when the writer uses it to move the story forward. I suppose unless we all sat down in person and hashed out what we mean by certain words there’s likely to be some misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

        The first real conflict in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone doesn’t begin until page 46, when Hagrid turns up and the Dursleys tell him they won’t allow Harry to learn magic. There are minor difficulties with his relatives before this point, but Harry’s real story is not with the Dursleys it’s with Voldemort. Even then, it takes sometime before that becomes clear.

        I use HP because of its phenomenal success. The beginning of this book not that attention grabbing…boring people who select their most boring ties, and a fat baby who throws tantrums? How does Rowling do it? And why did this book (and the rest of them) succeed beyond everyone’s expectations, in spite of breaking all the conventional rules for writing MG?: micro tension, one hell of an imagination, fantastic characters, a practically flawless (loophole free) plot, and good dose of humour. Plus something else which no one ever knows what it is.

        I am not against rules at all. I believe that getting to the point where craft has become skill is paramount, if one wants to write well. But there is something to writing that goes beyond the rules, and beyond whatever agents, editors, and publishers believe they want (usually, said belief being based on the surprise revenues of their last breakout novel). In fact, one only has to look at the so-called “breakout” novels to know there’s truth to this. Otherwise, those writers would have commanded huge advances instead of tiny ones. (Rowling received 2,500 pound, a 500 hardcover first printing, and was told, “don’t give up your day job.)

        The Night Circus has also been somewhat of a runaway success despite having virtually no plot, no fully developed characters, and dominant use of second person present point of view (none of which follows “a formula” even in the kindest of minds).

         
  6. Sevigne

    February 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    There are a few typos, but I think the gist of what I wanted to convey is still clear; in spite of a few missing words and punctuation marks. (My brain was working faster than my fingers could type. Sorry about that.)

     
    • Rebecca

      February 5, 2013 at 12:08 am

      No worries, we all do it!

       
    • Rebecca

      February 7, 2013 at 5:46 am

      (I’m replying to this comment as I can’t reply above. This is in response to your last post regarding Harry Potter.)

      Perhaps your expectations of conflict differ from what it means in this context. It doesn’t mean an argument or battle. If you want to use Harry Potter as an example, look at page seven, with the onslaught of owls being seen in daylight. It’s something simple, but not normal. It makes the reader wonder why they’re out and why owls were mentioned at all. Something unexpected is happening. If you continue reading to pages eight and nine, we run into Dumbledore turning out the streetlights and McGonagall turning human from cat form. Page fourteen brings us a giant on a flying motorcycle carrying a baby. The conflict lies between the mundane life of the Dursley family and the fantastical elements of Harry’s arrival. We want to know more.

      If you look at the first page of Night Circus, you can see the conflict. A circus that shows up in the middle of the night with no advertising and is only open from nightfall until dawn – that’s not something that happens on a regular basis. It arouses curiosity and keeps the reader turning the pages to find out more about this mysterious circus.

      You’re free to write however you’d like and I wish you well in your endeavors. However, I stand by my post. I’d be doing our readers a great disservice if I were to say that the beginning doesn’t need to have a hook (hook being conflict, interest, or tension) and it doesn’t matter how they write it. Nowhere in this post did I say that these are rules and all of them must be followed. Writing is a form of art and each writer has their own way of doing things. If a reader finds this post useful, great! If someone doesn’t find it helpful, as you obviously didn’t, then feel free to disregard the post. I won’t retract or change anything I’ve written.

       
      • Sevigne

        February 7, 2013 at 4:43 pm

        You definitely shouldn’t retract anything you wrote! We were simply having a conversation (I thought) about writing. I’m not sure how you arrived at the conclusion that anything I said was done as an effort to prove your point of view on how to succeed in writing a “great beginning” wrong. All I said in my first comment was that beginnings don’t always have to begin with conflict; stories can move quite slowly, provided there is micro-tension on every page to keep the reader wanting to know more. (I originally defined interest as tension, but perhaps micro-tension is a clearer description). The owls would fit what I call “interest” or micro-tension; so perhaps we’re not as far apart in what we want from books as readers as our comments back and forth may appear.

        The Night Circus has one big conflict, at the beginning: the suicide of the mother, and the unexpected arrival of the girl. These are largely given weight not by any sense of gravitas but by the single expletive the father utters at the sight of the girl. (For anyone who hasn’t read the book, all of this is revealed within the first two pages of the story, and can be read on amazon.com.) After that, for 400 pages, there’s actually very little tension or conflict. How conflict is handled…well, I won’t say it here in case that turns out to be a spoiler for someone who plans to read the book. Many readers love the descriptive imagery that abounds in the book, and that’s largely why it’s been so successful. Not because it’s a book filled with conflict or even micro-tension. I used it as an example of a book that in fact has very little real tension or conflict and yet has been successful…initially, I suspect, because, like other books before it, it was touted as “the next Harry Potter” and given a huge book tour (and the author received a high six-figure advance).

         
      • Rebecca

        February 8, 2013 at 12:51 am

        Sevigne, it’s hard to tell the tone of the comments via the Internet . From what I’ve gathered in our past few posts, you feel differently than I. I really don’t think we’re that far apart in what we’re saying, but how it’s being said is something completely different. You can describe the term as tension, micro-tension, interest or conflict, but what I’m saying is that the story needs to have something there to keep the reader going. Stories can start off slow, but as long as they have that little bit conflict, tension, interest or micro-tension – whatever you want to call it, the reader will keep reading. I don’t want our readers to start off with a fifteen page description of a setting. It doesn’t move the story forward and if it helps someone, that’s all I want. Learning to skim down and write the essentials is a valuable tool and the closer to the beginning a writer learns to do this, the better off they’ll be.

        Perhaps I arrived at my conclusion because we keep going back and forth of the the terminology in use. I’m very clear on the definition of each of the labels and their part in a story. This isn’t my first rodeo. It doesn’t matter what a person calls it, as long as it’s incorporated into the story.

        “Walking to school over the snow-muffled-cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day.” “Daughter of Smoke and Bone,” by Laini Taylor

        “He should have gone home.” “Death Watch,” by Ari Berk

        “I think I killed a girl who looked like this once.” “Girl of Nightmares,” by Kendare Blake

        “The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavsdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.” “Shadow and Bone,” by Leigh Bardugo

        “Being a dwarf is no easy task.” “Jepp Who Defied the Stars,” by Katherine Marsh

        With one line these stories manage to gain our curiosity. This is what I’m talking about. If you don’t pull the reader in with the first line, make it the next paragraph, the page – something, but do it soon. Courtney said she gives a manuscript twenty five pages to draw her in, how many does a reader give? You can use tension, micro-tension, conflict or interest, but whatever you do – do it well.

         
  7. Amy Freeman

    February 4, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Oh my…don’t have anything polished enough to post here yet. But love reading everyone else’s stuff! Nice work guys!

     
    • Rebecca

      February 5, 2013 at 12:09 am

      Thanks, Amy! If this goes well, we’ll be doing it again at a later date. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

       
  8. Jamie Raintree

    February 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Ugh! First pages! *headdesk* Lol! I have been working on that contest entry–the first 20 pages–which have made me painfully aware of the truth of everything you said here. I have several beta readers who only further confirmed it. I think I’ve rewritten the first couple of chapters about 8 times now. Insanity! Hopefully I’ve finally gotten it “there.” *fingers crossed* Great overview, Rebecca!

     
    • Rebecca

      February 5, 2013 at 12:12 am

      I know! They’re so difficult and it seems like they should be the easiest. You’re starting a fresh story, you’ve got now characters and they’re setting off into their story. But it’s not. Those first few pages are crucial. I lost track of how many time I’ve rewritten mine. The majority of the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, so I’m holding onto that and sticking with this opening. If you need someone to read for you, I’d be glad to help 🙂 Thanks, Jamie!

       
      • Jamie Raintree

        February 5, 2013 at 6:16 pm

        Thanks, Rebecca! I might just take you up on that! You gave Connie some great feedback. 🙂

         
  9. Jani

    February 6, 2013 at 12:09 am

    I’ve rewritten the start of at least two novels in the past because they just didn’t start in the right place. I’ve definitely learned from both and now give more consideration to where I begin my stories.

    I especially agree with you about setting. I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to setting, have been rejected because of that alone, and take care when I start my novel. I’ve created a rule for myself when I start with first draft rewrites: add at least one setting detail per page. It doesn’t sound like much, but sometimes we read pages without setting detail because we’re already familiar with where the characters are. But the details make a difference and helps to paint a better picture.

    This is a great post, Rebecca. Thank you!

     
    • Rebecca

      February 6, 2013 at 1:08 am

      Thank you so much, Jani! I’m glad you liked it. There’s such a fine line between too much setting and not enough, isn’t there? In my first draft, I described everything. After changing the setting and whittling it down to the bare essentials, I feel better. I want to give enough for the reader to see it, but not enough to where they can’t imagine it on their own. It’s such a fine line. I think your rule about one setting detail per page is quite accurate. Give enough for the reader to see it, but not overwhelm them. Very smart. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

       
  10. Sevigne

    February 8, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Rebecca, I appreciate your concern that you don’t want to see a writer get bogged down in descriptions that may not move the story forward. However, the things I’m trying to bring to the conversation are actually important. They’re not simply a matter of semantics–I say micro-tension, you say conflict…you say potato, I say potahto, let’s call the whole thing off. These distinctions are in fact what separate a fairly good writer from a great one. I remembered just before reading your response this morning that Donald Maass, a top literary agent and author of Writing the Breakout Novel, speaks of micro-tension (which is perhaps from where I got the idea). Here’s what he has to say:

    Donald Maass: Well, both. A scene enacts a change – that’s a mini-story. But to get through even an eight page scene, to make every word essential reading, you need line-by-line tension. So, I guess in a way you’re thinking/writing on three levels at once: macro plot, scene mini-story, and micro-tension. (http://www.liakeyes.com/?p=639) The overall blog post does not apply directly to your topic, Great Beginnings, but there’s a great deal of advice in it, which, in a general way, could help your the writers who work with you.

    Fifteen pages of description could be pulled off, if done the way Maass suggests, though it would take a spectacular writer to do it.

    Good luck to all of you with your workshops and critiques.

     
    • Rebecca

      February 8, 2013 at 11:54 am

      Sevigne, no, it’s not a matter of semantics at all. Tension, or conflict, or micro-tension, or interest – these all mean something different, but have the same idea behind them – to move the story and hook the reader. Which one a writer uses depends on the type of story being told. I used the term conflict in my post, because I thought everyone would understand the concept of what I was saying. I never said your contribution wasn’t important, but I don’t necessarily think you’re saying anything different than what I’ve said. We’re both saying that there has to be something there to move the story along and keep the reader’s interest. However, we seem to be getting derailed on what term should be used.

      I’ve read Donald Maass and am aware of his credentials. I encourage our readers to research and learn their craft, whether through blog posts or craft books. This post is a general overview, with the main point behind it being – catch the readers interest from the start. Yes. Fifteen pages of description could be pulled off, if there’s tension, micro-tension, conflict, or something else to catch the reader. That’s what a writer is supposed to do. I’m talking about the stories where the layout of a small town is described in excruciating detail or a long description of scenery – if it doesn’t move the story forward. Whether a story starts off fast or slow matters only to the story being told, just keep the story moving.

      I wish you well in your writing 🙂

       
  11. Stephanie

    February 9, 2013 at 3:06 am

    Genre: YA Sci-Fi Thriller

    First 500 (ok, 513):

    They were making enough noise to wake the dead, but with Adam holding her hand, Mary didn’t care. There was no one there to hear her nervous laughter, interrupted by Adam’s lips, gently trying to shut her up as the couple stumbled through the dark woods. Her first kiss. His lips were too warm, too unfamiliar. A warning shot through her.
    This is wrong. He doesn’t like you. Stop.
    But she didn’t listen. She steeled herself, imagining that bitch Carly’s face when she saw her snogging the hottest guy in school. Mary could smile until she cried. If he’d stop kissing her long enough.
    “Wait,” she said. “I want to show you something.”
    He should to see this – no, he needed to see this. His next kiss was met with a finger between their lips.
    “It’ll be fun. Promise.”
    Adam trailed reluctantly behind her, but his pace quickened when the Victorian mansion came into view behind iron bars. Mary fumbled for the gate bolt with one hand, the other grasping his fingers tightly, lest he change his mind and leave. Once through, she turned, not toward the house, but to the massive wooden structure Adam would assume was a barn: her father’s laboratory.
    “You stopped making out to show me your cows?,” he said.
    She let go of his hand to flip open the concealed keypad, shielding her password entry out of habit, and pushed open the heavy metal door.
    “I mean, I’m all for a roll in the hay, but do you have to be so lit-,”
    His voice caught in his throat as his foot triggered the motion-sensor, turning on the lights. Florescent fixtures dangled from the ceiling, illuminating scattered segments of the room, glinting off of the white and silver machinery that towered over them. Above, instead of a hay loft, grated platforms lined the walls, a maze of wire meshing and metal pipes. In the center of it all, a single chamber spanned the height of the room, a darkened window at eye-level revealing nothing inside.
    “What the…?”
    Adam took a few tentative steps, old ashen floorboards creaking beneath him. The door slammed shut behind them, and he jumped. Mary wrapped her arms around his neck, standing on tiptoe to look him in the eye.
    “Well, what do you think?”
    Say it’s awesome, say it’s awesome-
    “You are so weird,” he said, his fingers entwining in her hair. “But it’s kind of hot.”
    Mary turned her head away, pre-empting him, and stepped back. Hopping up onto the nearest table, Adam grabbed for her arm, but she was already out of reach, striding toward the chamber.
    “So… what’s a laboratory doing in your barn?”
    “Easier to hide from nosy guests… or curious children,” she said. “I’m not technically allowed in here.”
    “You break in to play with your father’s stuff?”
    “Most of it was my Moms. Some of it’s on loan from the government, like the MRI scanner. And the autopsy table you’re sitting on.”
    He sprang from the metal slab with a cry of disgust.
    “Don’t worry. It’s sanitized.”

     
    • Rebecca

      February 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      Hi Stephanie! Thanks so much for sharing your work. I apologize for taking so long in getting this back to you. I will say you’ve got me very curious. I’m dying to know Mary’s intent behind taking Adam into the laboratory. What does the chamber do? Your first 500 words have a lot of tension and that’s fantastic! The main suggestions I have, I’ve put in parentheses after the affected sentence. Please know these are my suggestions and you can take what you want and ignore the rest. Thanks again for sharing and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask. You’re off to a great start – keep going!

      Genre: YA Sci-Fi Thriller
      First 500 (ok, 513):
      They were making enough noise to wake the dead, but with Adam holding her hand, Mary didn’t care. (I think you could really make this sentence stronger. Paint this visual and give the reader more. “Enough noise to wake the dead,” sounds like a cliché. Your first sentence introduces you, as an artist and a writer. Don’t use someone else’s words.)
      There was no one there to hear her nervous laughter, interrupted by Adam’s lips, gently trying to shut her up as the couple stumbled through the dark woods. (I really like the idea here, but feel this sentence could be reworded to help it flow better. Read it aloud and see if you can hear what I’m talking about.)
      Her first kiss. His lips were too warm, too unfamiliar. (I got the impression above that she didn’t mind kissing him. His lips were too warm, compared to what? Perhaps you could explore this a little more.)
      A warning shot through her.
      This is wrong. He doesn’t like you. Stop.
      But she didn’t listen. She steeled herself, imagining that bitch Carly’s face when she saw her snogging the hottest guy in school. Mary could smile until she cried. If he’d stop kissing her long enough.
      “Wait,” she said. “I want to show you something.”
      He should to see this (Reword) – no, he needed to see this. His next kiss was met with a finger between their lips.
      “It’ll be fun. Promise.”
      Adam trailed reluctantly behind her, but his pace quickened when the Victorian mansion came into view behind iron bars. (This sentence is from his pov, but the rest seems to be from hers. If you’re in close third, and going to switch pov’s, there needs to be a clear break and distinction.)
      Mary fumbled for the gate bolt with one hand, the other grasping his fingers tightly, lest he change his mind and leave. Once through, she turned, not toward the house, but to the massive wooden structure Adam would assume was a barn: her father’s laboratory. (This sentence needs to be rearranged and focused. Perhaps you could describe a little more. The introduction of the barn as laboratory is something unique, play it up.)
      “You stopped making out to show me your cows?,” he said. (The question mark acts as a comma in this situation, so you don’t need it.)
      She let go of his hand to flip open the concealed keypad, shielding her password entry out of habit, and pushed open the heavy metal door.
      “I mean, I’m all for a roll in the hay, but do you have to be so lit-,”
      His voice caught in his throat as his foot triggered the motion-sensor, turning on the lights. (Who’s pov is this?)
      Florescent fixtures dangled from the ceiling, illuminating scattered segments of the room, glinting off of the white and silver machinery that towered over them. Above, instead of a hay loft, grated platforms lined the walls, a maze of wire meshing and metal pipes. In the center of it all, a single chamber spanned the height of the room, a darkened window at eye-level revealing (revealed) nothing inside.
      “What the…?”
      Adam took a few tentative steps, old ashen floorboards creaking beneath him. (Perhaps you could up the creepy factor by having modern flooring. With the weight of all the machinery and the chamber, would the flooring be old and creaky?)
      The door slammed shut behind them, and he jumped. Mary wrapped her arms around his neck, standing on tiptoe to look him in the eye.
      “Well, what do you think?”
      Say it’s awesome, say it’s awesome- (Why does she want him to think it’s awesome. Let us see a little more of her internal reactions.)
      “You are so weird,” he said, his fingers entwining in her hair. “But it’s kind of hot.”
      Mary turned her head away, pre-empting him, and stepped back. Hopping up onto the nearest table, Adam grabbed for her arm, but she was already out of reach, striding toward the chamber. (These two sentences are awkward, perhaps you could reword the second sentence, “Adam hopped onto the nearest table and grabbed for her arm, but she was out of reach, striding toward the chamber.” Something like that so it’s clear who’s doing what.)
      “So… what’s a laboratory doing in your barn?”
      “Easier to hide from nosy guests… or curious children,” she said. “I’m not technically allowed in here.”
      “You break in to play with your father’s stuff?”
      “Most of it was my Moms. Some of it’s on loan from the government, like the MRI scanner. And the autopsy table you’re sitting on.”
      He sprang from the metal slab with a cry of disgust.
      “Don’t worry. It’s sanitized.

       

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