It’s appropriate to start the opening of a new year and a new term with a discussion on openings in literature. In our craft class, we have briefly discussed where to begin stories. I have heard that the “acceptable” opening is in media res, in the middle of the story. That is not always the case. Having not formally studied writing before this program (I was a Spanish major and Middle Eastern Studies minor in college), it is eye-opening to me to see that what I’ve learned largely on my own about writing is not gospel. It is refreshing and freeing to understand that there are different and successful ways to begin a story, much as there are different and successful ways of narrating one (i.e. point of view).
Here’s a favorite opening of mine from a lovely book I recently finished, Silence in October by Jens Christian Grondahl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001):
Astrid stands at the rail with her back to the town. The breeze lifts her hair in a ragged, chestnut brown flag. She’s wearing sunglasses and smiling. There is perfect harmony between her white teeth and the white city. The photo is seven years old.
The opening paragraph continues for over a page. In the middle, there’s a startling revelation: Astrid has been gone for the month, and the narrator (her husband) has had no contact with her and only a sketchy idea, based on bank statements, of her location. It’s an intriguing, compelling opening–a flashback and present-day mystery in one. It’s unconventional yet accomplishes what all openings should do: invite readers into the story and persuade them to read more.