I invite you to join me on a journey of discovery, exploring the art and craft of brilliant beginnings in storytelling. Storytellers write these opening words to draw readers across the threshold into the imaginary world of story.
For the reader, a brilliant beginning should…
Think about what happens to you as a reader, when you get hooked by the storyteller’s first few words?
When we—as humans—encounter something new, our limbic system’s “watchdog”—the amygdala—is designed to give us first impressions. In the same way a dog is perpetually sniffing out associations, this instinctive brain function is constantly on the lookout, scanning for the new, the unexpected, the unexplained.
Whether it’s a new movie, a new novel, or the appearance of a sabre toothed tiger in our territory, our brains are hardwired to make snap judgments. It’s a survival skill.
If you’re a storyteller, readers will judge your novel, your magazine article, your public speech on that first impression, those opening words and the way they’re presented. You want those first words to be intriguing, compelling—and authentically consistent with the rest of your story. Because if you don’t follow through on the rest of your story, your readers are going to be disappointed.
As storytellers we have a virtually unlimited number of talented mentors. If you’re writing the kind of stories you yourself would like to read, then you can’t do better than to study the authors of those books that fill you with anticipation with that first word … first sentence … first page.
I belong to a small writers group of multi-published authors called the pen warriors. 3 to 4 times a year we meet for weekend retreats to focus on the art and craft of storytelling. We’ve been meeting for 16 years! During one of those retreats we decided that we would each analyze the beginning of a book we loved, and post it on our blog.
After we finished our first round, we decided to do it again. And then a third time.
Thanks to my fellow Pen Warriors, Bonnie Edwards, E. C. Sheedy, Laura Tobias, and Gail Whitiker, these analyses are now available as part of this course.
I invite you to join our journey, to share our exploration of brilliant beginnings. Remember the role the reader’s amygdala plays in getting the reader to cross that threshold into story. I invite you, like a curious dog, to sniff the ground around those first words, sentences, and paragraphs in the beginnings we’ll study.
Look for power words and phrases that evoke images in your mind, questions in your brain, and emotions in your heart, words that stir the need to know more, the urge to shut out the world and turn the page, crossing the threshold into the magic of story.
Let’s have some fun together.
Discover the four elements of brilliant beginnings: a promise (anticipation), a question (suspense), emotions (engagement), and an threshold (invitation)
Introducing multi-published romance and suspense author, Pen Warrior E. C. Sheedy
E. C. Sheedy introduces the Pen Warriors blog series on opening pages (AKA Brilliant Beginnings) with a discussion of the need - if the story must be "great" - for its opening pages to be greater still—intriguing, absorbing, enthralling, and captivating. (Narrated by Vanessa Grant)
In her analysis of Scott William Carter’s THE GRAY AND GUILTY SEA, E. C. Sheedy discusses the author’s use of mystery, mood, and powerful words to create impact. (Narrated by Vanessa Grant)
Introducing multi-published historical romance and fantasy author, Pen Warrior Gail Whitiker.
In her analysis of Paula Brackston’s THE MIDNIGHT WITCH, Gail Whitiker discusses how the author sets the stage for the story and evokes questions in the reader’s mind. (Narrated by Vanessa Grant)
Introducing journalist and multi-published women’s fiction and children’s author, Pen Warrior Laura Tobias.
In her analysis of Barbara Samuel’s MADAME MIRABOU’S SCHOOL OF LOVE, Laura Tobias discusses the author’s use of opening pages to hint at what’s to come, appeal to the reader’s senses, and leave her wanting more. (Narrated by Vanessa Grant)
In her analysis of Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL, Vanessa Grant discusses the author’s use of well crafted phrases, mood and rhythm to evoke suspense and curiosity in the reader.
Introducing multi-published romance and erotic romance author, Pen Warrior Bonnie Edwards.
In her analysis of Jack London’s THE CALL OF THE WILD, Bonnie Edwards discusses how the author evoked emotional responses and raised questions to keep the reader turning pages. (Narrated by Vanessa Grant)
|This exercise will help you build skill in recognizing and analyzing the powerful elements of other storytellers’ brilliant beginnings, providing the knowledge base to develop your own skill in crafting brilliant beginnings.|
In her analysis of Jo Jo Moyes’ ME BEFORE YOU, E. C. Sheedy discusses the author’s use of subtlety, body language and dialogue to intrigue the reader and build characterization. (Narrated by Vanessa Grant)
In her analysis of 6 Dick Francis mysteries, Vanessa Grant illustrates the author’s use of powerful, evocative, yet mysterious first paragraphs to instantly engage the reader.
In her analysis of Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS, Gail Whitiker discusses how the author’s use of subtle hints of magic and mystery to lay the foundation for a magical tale and weave a tantalizing promise to the reader. (Narrated by Vanessa Grant)
In her analysis of Susan Ee’s ANGELFALL, Laura Tobias discusses how the author brought a dangerous, futuristic fantasy world and its characters to life with page-turning immediacy. (Narrated by Vanessa Grant)
In her analysis of Graeme Simsion’s THE ROSIE PROJECT, Bonnie Edwards discusses how the author subtly evokes emotional responses and hints at theme, while giving his reader insight into the protagonist’s unique and humorous thinking process. (Narrated by Vanessa Grant)
|This exercise will help you build skill in recognizing and analyzing character-building and world-building elements in the beginning of one of your favorite books, broadening your skill-building foundations for crafting evocative character and worldbuilding elements in your own stories.|
In her analysis of Jane Austin’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and several other historical romances, E. C. Sheedy discusses the need to craft a first sentence perfectly designed for both the historical period and the romantic possibilities.
In her blog IN PRAISE OF THE SLOW BEGINNING, Gail Whitiker analyzes several brilliant “slow beginnings” including Rosamunde Pilcher’s THE SHELL SEEKERS. These authors skillfully place the reader in an atmospheric locale, creating a strong sense of place and establishing a mood that draws in the reader.
In her analysis of Karen White’s A LONG TIME GONE, Laura Tobias discusses the intensity of the author’s voice, her use of power words, and her presentation of an incredibly strong narrator to create a graphic sense of place and character - and hook the reader on the first page.
In her analysis of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s WHEN I FOUND YOU, Vanessa Grant discusses the author’s use of power words, the strong internal voice of a single character, and well-crafted sentences to bring to life three characters and their setting. Without a word spoken, the author paints a picture of a lonely man, a long-term sterile marriage, and the unselfish dedication of Sophie the heroic dog.
In her analysis of 3 of her own beginnings, Bonnie Spidle concludes the Pen Warrior blog series with a discussion of what she’s learned and the elements she’s worked to incorporate into her own beginnings.
|This exercise is designed to help you develop skill in crafting your own beginning with instructor feedback.|
“Storytelling and education have been my lifelong passions. I love facilitating learning for storytellers.” … Vanessa Grant
AUTHOR / STORYTELLER
Vanessa Grant began her literary career writing the column A Letter From Lucy Island Lighthouse for a small northern British Columbia newspaper. She later worked as a contributing editor for Sea Talk magazine and freelance commentator for CBC Radio Canada.
Her first novel was published in 1985 and she went on to write 32 more romance novels as Vanessa Grant (several while living on a sailboat in Mexico for two years) and three dark thrillers under the pseudonym Val Cameron.
Vanessa has been translated into 15 languages with over 10 million copies of her books sold worldwide. Her non-fiction book Writing Romance won the Under the Covers literary award and was described in a National Writer’s Monthly review as “by far the best writing book I have ever read”.
Vanessa has presented storytelling workshops for writers’ groups in Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. She is also qualified as a Certified Professional Accountant, a Certified Forensic Investigator, an MBA, and holds a Post Secondary Instructor’s Diploma.
Vanessa recently retired from her career as a Professor of Accounting and Forensics at Vancouver Island University to work on her own teaching and writing activities.
Vanessa lives with her husband of forty-one years and their enthusiastic Australian Shepherd on British Columbia’s beautiful Vancouver Island.