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Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Writers

Intriguing Opening Lines (Mystery/Thriller/Suspense)

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  • #136319
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    I am curious, for all my fellow Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Writers out there, how do you begin your stories of this type?  Are you willing to share some of your personal examples of your opening lines from a WIP that you use to grab a reader’s attention?

    Here are a few that I have used in some stories:

    1. Lost, alone, cold, wet, tired and no one knew she still lived.  Categorically speaking, things could not have been better.

    2. I have killed—and will most likely kill again.  In fact, this is the third time I’ve had to kill the same thing.

    3.  There were screams.  Loud.  Shrill.  Piercing.  A man’s voice shouted, “YAA!  YAA!  GO AWAY!”  The whine of the wind through the trees was insistent.  Branches crackled as something passed through them, moving fast.  There were more noises.  Snuffling, and snarls.  The sound of an impact, and a yelp.

    4. Sweat rose on Lionel’s upper lip as he breathed heavily into the oxygen mask.  The smoke scorched his lungs and burned his eyes.  He blinked rapidly to clear the floating flash spots that ghosted his vision.  His eyebrows crackled as he rubbed his forehead and singed portions fell into his matted eyelashes.

    5. Barbados Hatcher was a fleshpot—a rippling, jelly-filled walrus of a man, with blubber to spare.  He lived in a crumbling shanty along the riverfront with a wooden deck stretching out over the muddy bank and ending in a rickety pier.  He always stank of sweat, beer, and bologna.  And very seldom did I ever see him in more than an over-stretched T-shirt and boxer shorts.  That was the way he lived—filthy, dirty, a pig wallowing in a sty.

    6. We were flown into the western region of the mainland peninsula; the third of three attempts to recon and secure the village settlement of Gankola.  Our platoon objective was to break through the resistance forces guarding the back jungle access and set up an outpost in the grass-hut village  Previous attempts to reach the town through this route had failed due to what we thought were well-placed sniper attacks.  So, our officers had proposed this blitz strike with small units to lure the enemy into a trap.

    7. It was a time of oppression.  It was a time of great sadness.  It was the time of the Roman Caesars.  The voice of the Hebrew prophets had been silent for over four hundred years, and Israel’s children continually cried out to their God for relief.  Though the words of each prayer varied, the request was always the same: “Lord, send us a deliverer.”

    8. The trees of Evengrove were in bloom that July day when we first saw little Beck.  She was a sight to behold: a little tatter of a dress, bare feet, skinny legs and covered from head to foot in dirt and filth.  The boys found her in one of the apple trees in our orchard, and John had to stop them from throwing apples up at her.  Poor thing was terrified and I demanded that John fetch her down at once.  He grabbed his ladder and set about to lean it on a limb, when she scrambled over and shoved it away.  I declare that girl was as savage as a cornered cougar and I don’t rightly recall how we ever did get her out of that tree.  It took some doing though, I can tell you that.

    ——-
    Well, these are just a few of mine. I just wanted to know what methods and opening lines you use to entice a book peruser to become engaged in what you write by the first sentences.


    @lissie-w


    @carlos_m_carrasco


    @erynne


    @amgmontavon


    @laur_m


    @zee


    @ashleaadams


    @writergirl101


    @melodyjoy


    @daeus-lamb

    Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
    I was born in war.
    Fighting from my first breath.

    #136326
    Lissie W
    @lissie-w

    Lol.

    Mine usually begin like a normal story. Lucy (my MC) gets home and everything is normal.

    LissieW

    #136327
    Laur_M
    @laur_m

    After a few not quite satisfying starts of my most complete WIP, I finally settled on putting my first scene, POV character into hot water as quickly as possible. The 911 dispatcher was already on the line as the character was in the process of climbing out the window onto the fire escape. I took the advice of Les Edgerton and wasted no time in starting the action and the conflict.

    #136333
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    @lissie-w

    Hi Lizzie,

    Lucy (my MC) gets home and everything is normal.

    So how did “Lucy’s” day begin to go south? How did you first begin to indicate something was going wrong?

    If a potential reader was walking through a book store and happened to pick up your book from the shelf, and open to the first page, what lines would you use to hook them in to keep reading?  Do you have any examples of just a few lines in your WIP where the shift takes place?


    @laur_m

    Hi Laur,

    That sounds like a good plan.  It is consistent with the Latin phrase:  in medias res (in the midst of things)

    I finally settled on putting my first scene, POV character into hot water as quickly as possible.

    What peril did you introduce to the MC that would intrigue a reader to keep reading?  Could you share a few lines of what you consider to be your hook?

    Also, in other books you’ve read, (assuming in the same genres of this group) could you share a few opening lines from one of your favorite books that hooked you in?

    I am a big fan of suspense writer Dean Koontz.  Here is an example of a few of his opening lines that got me right away:

    “With a draft beer and a smile, Ned Pearsall raised a toast to his deceased neighbor, Henry Friddle, whose death greatly pleased him.  Henry had been killed by a garden gnome.” Page 1, Chapter 1 of “Velocity” by Dean R. Koontz

    Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
    I was born in war.
    Fighting from my first breath.

    #136570
    Erynne
    @erynne

    Hello Brain! Thanks for tagging me! Sorry about the delayed response though, I’ve been busy with work work and work here at home…

    Anyway, I am still in the process of plotting out my suspense novel, but I have had this opening line thought out for months. I haven’t told it to anyone so it might be absolutely awful on paper rather than in my head.

    “I hate that feeling. The feeling that this is happening, that this is real. The feeling that everything you’ve ever worked for, everything you’ve ever protected, is lost. I thought about this as I stared into the large crowd in front of me. It was hard for me to look at the few faces I recognized- my mother, my sister- the faces I would never see again. I also thought about the ones whose footsteps I was following in- my father, Nick’s, the baby. I had let them down. All of them. I sighed as the guard brought me to the center of the platform. “I’m sorry,” I whisper as I close my eyes to prepare myself for the pain, the torture, and finally, my death that was to follow. Of course, I never could’ve been prepared for what happened in those few moments after I closed my eyes…”

    I’m not sure if I should start the book like that or if that should be a prologue. What do you think?

    And I guess I should probably answer your question XD I tend to like to read and write relatable stories. The feeling she mentions at first we have all had, and we normally all hate it. I thought it would add to the suspense if it started out being relatable then showing what’s going on in the character’s POV. This (at least what I’m hoping) gets the reader thinking What could’ve possibly happened to this girl? 

    Another method I use is just saying random things (that are related to the story, of course) while being overly dramatic inside my head when coming up with these types of things. If you act like some really mysterious movie announcer when creating your first sentence, it will make everything seem suspenseful and thrilling and it has helped a lot. Obviously, not everything you come up with will work but it’s pretty easy to figure out what is good and what is bad when coming acting super dramatic. Here is a completely random example, but you have to use a very dramatic voice when reading these:

    “Poison. I could taste it. This whiskey, unlike the others, sent a burn down my throat. I would recognize the signs anywhere. The burn, the chalky taste, the sudden swelling in my throat.  Someone was trying to kill me. ”

    “I took another shot. Only this one, tasted off. Really off. The chalky taste set the alarm off in my head. Someone had poisoned my drink.”

    These would both work I guess, but in my opinion the first one is better. I completely made these up right here so they are both pretty bad XD

    I hope this helps you! Feel free to ask questions if you’re wanting to discuss more 🙂

    Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you ever know who would love the person you hide.

    #136642
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    @erynne

    Good evening, Erynne!

    Thank you for your response! Delighted to have you join this topic and discussion.  No need to apologize for the delay.

    I totally understand. Today was a busy day for me too.  Sorry, I am so late getting back here to your reply. (writing this at night)

    You wrote:

    “I hate that feeling. The feeling that this is happening, that this is real. The feeling that everything you’ve ever worked for, everything you’ve ever protected, is lost. I thought about this as I stared into the large crowd in front of me. It was hard for me to look at the few faces I recognized- my mother, my sister- the faces I would never see again. I also thought about the ones whose footsteps I was following in- my father, Nick’s, the baby. I had let them down. All of them. I sighed as the guard brought me to the center of the platform. “I’m sorry,” I whisper as I close my eyes to prepare myself for the pain, the torture, and finally, my death that was to follow. Of course, I never could’ve been prepared for what happened in those few moments after I closed my eyes…”

    That is a pretty good one!

    You’ve got internal thoughts of the MC. You’ve set up a degree of loss, feelings of failure, disappointment, contrition, and an odd juxtaposition of her mother and sister as spectators in her prospective torture and death.  You’ve introduced tension and threat, and pivoted with a prospect of “the unexpected”.

    You wrote:

    I’m not sure if I should start the book like that or if that should be a prologue. What do you think?

    That could be a good start, but I would build the empathy out a little more.  Tease some aspect of what she did to bring about these dire consequences and what she had been hoping to accomplish by doing that which failed.

    Indicate what emotions her mother and sister might be feeling.  Is it what we would normally expect, or are the mother and sister consenting to and in agreement with her punishment?  That definitely would surprise the reader because it would be jarring to their normal expectations.  At present, we do not know the perspective of her mother and sister because their emotions are unseen.  The unexpected often intrigues readers to want to know more—to want to know the why of these situations.  This meeting of consequence, usually indicates there was a preceding inciting event, so it will beg a series of flashbacks and set the expectations for it.  You may be right to put this in a prologue so that your first chapter begins with the tension of the action that led up to her capture and arrest.  This way the prologue is a foreshadowing that you may return to in a subsequent chapter, immediately following the MC’s “prologued moment” on the executioner’s platform and driving right into the “what happened in those few moments after I closed my eyes…” actions.

    If you do that, however, you might want to build a little more tension into that opening.  Have her consider the devices of torture that might be present, the bodies of her fellow prisoners, the aspect of the disapproving crowd, the gloating to the executioner or the magistrate or authority who apprehended her and brought her to this point.  Build up that tension and the threat. Is she to be hung, beheaded, electrocuted, quartered, burned at the stake?

    Give us a sense or a hint of what happened to her “father, Nick and the baby”.

    Suspense is built by a series of small and large promises and pay-off strung out along the scenes and chapters. Ask yourself what questions a scene might generate, what partial answers may in subsequent scenes, but don’t answer the really BIG questions until you reach the climax of the story.  Give hints and or misdirection and then surprise readers with intriguing answers that hint at more mystery to come, more factors at play.

    Make readers hungry for a future full meal, but give them only enough small appetizers to whet their appetite, until the table is fully set and ready.  Every scene should generate questions and give some answers to questions raised in prior scenes, but not enough to spoil the “future Main Meal of the climax”. Keep the answers to the most pivotal questions for that and the denouement.

    You wrote:

    Here is a completely random example, but you have to use a very dramatic voice when reading these: “Poison. I could taste it. This whiskey, unlike the others, sent a burn down my throat. I would recognize the signs anywhere. The burn, the chalky taste, the sudden swelling in my throat.  Someone was trying to kill me. ” “I took another shot. Only this one, tasted off. Really off. The chalky taste set the alarm off in my head. Someone had poisoned my drink.”

    I can hear the dramatic voice. 😉 Good job!

    You wrote:

    These would both work I guess, but in my opinion the first one is better. I completely made these up right here so they are both pretty bad XD

    On the contrary, these are not “pretty bad”. They are quite good, in fact. But I personally think the second is better. Here’s why, and it illustrates what I meant by giving “small appetizers”.  The first sentence gives too much away.  You want enough detail to raise questions that intrigue the reader, but not enough to make them go, “Wait. Stop. What?!”

    Ted Dekker, in his course entitled “The Creative Way,” talks about being careful not to pop the “fictive bubble”.  You want to keep your readers immersed in your story without them jumping out on with a point of logic that they cannot follow. Here’s the particular point in the first one that does that: “I would recognize the signs anywhere.”

    It makes me stop and chase another rabbit, trying to figure the logic of how someone would be able to have prior experience knowing the “tastes” of poisons and not dying from them.  If the character somehow has some immunity to the poison, (Like The Dread Pirate Roberts/”Wesley” did with iocaine powder in “The Princess Bride” in the comical “battle of wits” with the arrogant Vincini), then you’ve just immediately lowered the threat threshold for your main character, and made them think of something comical rather than something threatening.  See what I mean? You need to build tension and raise the stakes.  Make it feel like your MC might die or face credible peril, personal loss or defeat, at any moment. By starting the first word of the quote as “Poison” you’ve revealed the danger too soon. Let it build.

    The second one:

    “I took another shot. Only this one, tasted off. Really off. The chalky taste set the alarm off in my head. Someone had poisoned my drink.”

    …is much stronger and might even be moreso by adding in “I suspect…” to “someone [has] poisoned my drink.”  This allows the danger to lurk a little bit more in the peripheral shadows.  It makes us focus on two more important things that will lead your reader into what you will reveal in the next passage, paragraph, scene, or ensuing chapters:

    1.       How much time does the MC have left before she/he succumbs to the effects of the “poison” or whatever has been added to the drink.  [Time ticking down, escalates tension and increases suspense.]

    2.       It begs the questions: who might have done this? …and… why?

    Don’t discount your momentary starts.

    You wrote:

    I completely made these up right here so they are both pretty bad

    Put your inner critic in a closet. Mercilessly, Lock him/her –(your inner critic [I.C.] Let’s call it “Ick!” 😁)–up.

    Lock “Ick” in a dungeon, mewling, begging, and scratching frantically to get out.  You will release them later when they are “better behaved” and don’t get in the way of you making these inspirational “starts”.

    Mine them for questions.  They are “the seeds” of an intriguing story.  They are flashes and glimpses behind a curtain that tease your mind into something deeper and inspiring.

    Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
    I was born in war.
    Fighting from my first breath.

    #136826
    Erynne
    @erynne

    Wow, I’m pretty sure you helped me more than I helped you…oops XD

    That is a pretty good one!

    You’ve got internal thoughts of the MC. You’ve set up a degree of loss, feelings of failure, disappointment, contrition, and an odd juxtaposition of her mother and sister as spectators in her prospective torture and death.  You’ve introduced tension and threat, and pivoted with a prospect of “the unexpected”.

    Well thank you! My writing is often times pretty cheesy so I was really worried about that one.

    Indicate what emotions her mother and sister might be feeling.  Is it what we would normally expect, or are the mother and sister consenting to and in agreement with her punishment?  That definitely would surprise the reader because it would be jarring to their normal expectations.

    Yes, I had actually thought of that about 20 seconds after I had posted that lol. That was my first time ever pointing it in words on (well, not paper…) My point is, is it will need some editing.

    If you do that, however, you might want to build a little more tension into that opening.  Have her consider the devices of torture that might be present, the bodies of her fellow prisoners, the aspect of the disapproving crowd, the gloating to the executioner or the magistrate or authority who apprehended her and brought her to this point.  Build up that tension and the threat. Is she to be hung, beheaded, electrocuted, quartered, burned at the stake?

    That really gives me something to think about. I’m pretty sure I will do it as a prologue because if I don’t most of her story will have to be presented in flashbacks and too many could make the story clash. Also, I don’t know if I’m prepared to write in that type of style.

    Give us a sense or a hint of what happened to her “father, Nick and the baby”.

    As of in the prologue? If I don’t give too many clues it will add to the reader’s list of questions. Do you think this is a good idea or do I need to put more details in?

    On the contrary, these are not “pretty bad”. They are quite good, in fact

    Oh my, idk about that. 😂 Thank you though!

    So I’m not sure if I helped you at all XD I see what you mean about how the second one is better, I think I just like the way the first is set up- the way my dramatic voice reads it, perhaps. I really do appreciate all of your help and encouragement! Unfortunately, “Ick” follows me wherever I go and I can’t ever seem to get rid of him. I don’t have access to a dungeon or else he would be there more often or not. That would be helpful sometimes lol

    I’m just curious, by the little bit of info you know about my novel (more than anyone but myself, I might add) does it actually sound like it would be, well, good??

    Thank you again for all of your help!

     

    Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you ever know who would love the person you hide.

    #136827
    Erynne
    @erynne

    Anddd I forgot to tag you again *facepalm*


    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you ever know who would love the person you hide.

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