Friday 5 – Tips on opening chapters from Nightshade.

I’m not a huge vampire/werewolf fan. But I love a great story and a character that sucks me into the story. Needless to say, Andrea Cremer did just that. I’ve only read the first two chapters on my Kindle. The rest will come! The opening sold me.

1. Involve the reader in the protagonist’s internal struggle right away. (chapter 1)

Opening paragraph: Many would say the opening was risky because Calla was fighting a bear. I mean, where’s the set up? Shouldn’t I be invested in the character first? But excellent writing trumped the risk. For every action Calla or the bear made – Calla’s reactions showed her personality and internal struggle.

  • Bears’ roar and hot breath  – fueled Calla’s bloodlust. (showing)
  • Boy’s ragged gasp – desperate sound made her nails dig into the earth. Calla snarled at it. (showing)
  • And the clincher for me came at the end of the first paragraph – Calla’s internal thoughts that made her seem like a regular teen. What the hell am I doing? Talk about a hook. There are obvious implications in that thought beyond the fact she could die fighting a bear.
  • Throughout chapter one and two we see Calla’s internal struggle as she saves this boy.  But I’m assuming it’s not a gimmick and this boy will play a role later in the story.

2. Show hints of the external storyline. (chapter 1)

Opening pages: After Calla chases the bear away, she approaches the hiker.

“I’d betrayed my masters, broken their laws. All for him. Why?”

No long paragraphs of set up explaining her world. We know she’s a wolf. We know she just made a rebellious and brave decision and could get in trouble for it. The details will come later. Perfect example of revealing just enough but not too much.

3. Use sensory details connected to the emotion of the moment to make the writing come alive. (chapter 1 and 2)

  • Strong verbs
  • Sensory details and imagery – lots of smell and sight
  • Well-placed description with vibrant adjectives
  • Incredible internal thoughts that showed her emotions instead of telling or explaining (R.U.E. Resist the urge to explain.)

4. Show a likeable character. (chapter 1 and 2)

Calla “saved the cat”. At personal risk to herself, and more than just physical safety, Calla saves the boy from the bear and helps heal him. She made herself vulnerable. Right there, I was hooked. Don’t underestimate the power of this screenwriting trick.

5. Show the story world and conflict instead of telling. (chapter 2)

  • Through a visit from the alpha female of another pack and a conversation that scolds Calla to be more lady like for her upcoming marriage with the other pack’s alpha male – we learn everything. It wasn’t done in a sequel, where Calla feels sorry for herself. And most importantly, it didn’t feel contrived. Masterful dialogue.
  • The alpha leaves and Calla has to deal with her mom. Through dialogue and interaction with Calla’s mom we learn about her family structure – without one spec of telling. Incredible really. Hard to do. Rarely done.
  • End of the chapter, Calla’s brother mentions that if she ever doesn’t want to marry this alpha male, he’d rebel with her. Wow.

What I love best so far is the juxtaposition of this normal teenager – messy room and everything – with the ancient tradition of a wolf pack. Ironic. Unexpected.

I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I can tell it will be really good. And isn’t this the kind of opening we want? I have 6 samples on my Kindle – guess which one I’ll be buying?

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25 Responses to Friday 5 – Tips on opening chapters from Nightshade.

  1. Misha February 4, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    Sounds wonderful.

    I’m definitely going to try to get my hands on it.


  2. Stina Lindenblatt February 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Brilliant as always, Laura!

    I borrowed the book from the library but never got round to reading it (or opening it). I’ll definitely have to check it out. 😀

    • Laura February 4, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

      Thanks Misha and Stina – It’s rare that I find an opening that has all the elements of a great opening. I can’t wait to read the book. And for the longest time I didn’t because of the werewolf thing but after the first chapter I realized it was more about a regular teen girl. Then I loved it.

  3. Jen Daiker February 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    Laura I love your posts. Always amazing. I love a great opening and I’m thinking about snagging a copy based on this post alone!

  4. Laura Marcella February 4, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    I’m not a fan of vampires and werewolves either, but I’ll give it a shot if it’s highly recommended.

    You’re awesome at breaking down and analyzing how novels work!

  5. Amparo Ortiz February 4, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    I LOVED this book! The tension/pacing is pure brilliance to me 😀

    Hope you enjoy the rest of it!!

  6. Laura February 4, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Jen – I can’t believe I put this book off for so long!

    Laura – Calla is such an awesome character, you’ll see past the werewolf thing. It doesn’t seem like the typical werewolf story!

    amparo – I agree. The tension/pacing is incredible. Definitely a book to study! After engulfing it! 🙂

  7. Jennifer Hoffine February 4, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    Yes, I enjoyed Nightshade also, and it is a great example of compelling first chapters and effective world-building.

  8. Donna February 4, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    Great post! I wish B&N had a sample version, so I could check it out. *sigh*

  9. Sherrie Petersen February 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    I can’t wait to hear your thoughts after you’re read the whole thing 🙂

  10. Susan Kaye Quinn February 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    Sounds awesome! I wouldn’t pick up a book with werewolves (not so much my thing), but I may just to look at the artistry in this one!

  11. Susan Kaye Quinn February 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    p.s. I’m stopping by to copy down your How to Train Your Dragon series for closer study. 🙂

  12. Kelly B February 4, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    Now I want to read it.

  13. J E Fritz February 4, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    That’s really good advice. I’m not a werewolf fan but I may just have to check it out.

  14. Susan R. Mills February 4, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Well then, I must add it to my list. I love a book that sucks me in right away.

  15. Karen Strong February 4, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    I’ve heard some good things about NIGHTSHADE. Now I’m intrigued by your descriptions of the opening chapters.

    And don’t you just LOVE downloading the sample chapters on the Kindle?

  16. Jemi Fraser February 5, 2011 at 1:16 am #

    I didn’t have this one on my wishlist – until now! 🙂

  17. Julie Musil February 5, 2011 at 2:28 am #

    Wow, this is brilliant. I’m rewriting my opening, and I long for this sort of perfection. Thanks, Laura.

  18. Margo Berendsen February 5, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    I learned a lot of really helpful writing techniques from this book – besides really enjoying it!

    Loved your reference to R.U.E. – that will help me remember that important rule.

    And I simply must get Save the Cat!

    I got Kindle for PC to see if wanted to invest in a Kindle. haven’t been able to figure out how to get the sample chapters though! maybe I actually need a Kindle?

  19. christine danek February 18, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    This is one book I want to read (once I get through the stack I have sitting on my table.) Thanks for the examples, helps a bunch.
    Have a wonderful weekend!

  20. Sheri Larsen February 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    This is just perfect, especially your opener–no pun. hah… Came over from Stina’s.

  21. Janet Johnson February 18, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    I had the same thoughts about this book . . . I was lucky enough to get an arc. She is a master at worldbuilding without all the telling you often see (and which I find myself doing).

    Found you at Stina’s by the way. 🙂

    • Laura February 18, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

      Janet – Yes, I loved how she slipped in world building in such a believable way. Thanks for stopping by.

      Lisa – Sounds like you’re on the right track!

      Laurel – Yes, screenwriters have to follow structure to the letter but that doesn’t always translate over to novels perfectly. It’s knowing where to be flexible.


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