Which Opening Is Better?

It’s awesome, if I do say so myself.

As you know by now, The Navigators is currently with beta readers and will be released soon. I’m looking at mid June/end of June 2016. (Still time to be a beta reader for me if you want; click HERE for details)

So, naturally, this is the time to discuss how to open the darned story.

It falls to you, my friends.

Check out the following two openings, and see which is best. (If you want to read entire the sample chapter, that’s HERE.)

A: “Come on.” Barry jumped up from behind his desk. “An archaeological dig at a mine in central Florida is practically like going to the beach.”

“Only hotter.” I set my plate on the coffee table and leaned back, folding my arms.

Melissa carried her hamburger to the kitchen. “It’s smellier, too. Yuck.” She leaned on the counter, taking her free hand and sweeping her long brown locks behind her ear.


B: “No way.” Roger shook his head and left the kitchen. “You fuckers are crazy.”

Barry jumped up from behind his desk. “Come on. An archaeological dig at a mine in central Florida is practically like going to the beach.”

“Only hotter.” I set my plate on the coffee table and leaned back, folding my arms.

Melissa carried her hamburger to the kitchen. “It’s smellier, too. Yuck.” She leaned on the counter, taking her free hand and sweeping her long brown locks behind her ear.

See? Basically the opening line is what’s different. Which is better?

Log your answer below in the comments and try to explain your selection, and be a part of this sucker becoming a bestseller. That’s right. It’s all up to you. The opening line/lines are THAT important. No pressure. BTW, financial ruin may await me if you’re wrong.

I’ll give my explanations of why I did what I did – but give me your answer first. That way there’s no undue influence.

I’ll wait..

Okay? All logged? I don’t wanna sway anyone…

Okay, so I originally started with opening A and with what was obviously somebody having an argument/discussion, to which they’d just been told no.

B starts with the NO answer and then the explanation.

Why is one better?

I thought a good hook was the starting out making readers wonder who was arguing with whom, and why, and having to read on to find out. Also, I thought a blurb saying these grad students discover a time machine in a  mine – and starting out with them saying No I don’rt wanna go to the mines – I thought that was interesting.


My friend Allison Maruska, the editor on this book, said (if I may paraphrase, and since it’s my blog, I will) the story needed some setting, and the person disagreeing made readers wonder WHAT had been asked of him/them to get such a reply.

Hmm. That is interesting.

Hell, I’m intrigued and I wrote it.

Damn! Hers may be better.


So, since there are 105,000 words in this story, I figured, what’s 14 more?

In fairness, she suggested trimming other stuff later on, so she earned her keep. But the opening chapter is the writer’s befuddlement. It has a big job and usually can’t be fully written until the story has ended. The opening paragraph is the key to the opening chapter, needing to grab the reader’s attention and make them interested somehow. The opening line is what sets that all up, a golden ray of sunshine lighting your morning of your story and all that follows.

And since we deal in truth here, I’m showing what boggles a writer even as book seventeen rolls out.

It never ends.

But truth is required and truth must be delivered!

So, have at it.

Which is better?

Just wait. Later in the week we’re gonna talk about what makes a good blurb. Ohhhhhhh noooooo!!!


56 thoughts on “Which Opening Is Better?

  1. The second opening grabs the attention more urgently, I would say – it makes it interesting from the kick-off. But it does have a rude word in it. Actually, that makes it better – opening B gets my vote, Dan.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The second one catches my attention better. You get a sense that it’s definitely a heated debate. The first one has a slight complaining whine with ‘Come on’. When it comes after ‘No way’, there’s more of a argumentative context to it. Really not sure how to explain this without feeling like I’m making up words.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I liked the second one better. Bet you know I’m still fucked up over my own beginning, same issue. The second one is more exciting. The first one is okay, but I glazed over it searching for something to pull me in. It wouldn’t stop me from reading because most books begin far away from the story and you come to expect that. But, back to back, looking at them both like that, I find the second one more engaging.
    Feel free to use my first chapter problem as another example. It’s an interesting question.


    • Your struggles with your opening chapter are part of what prompted this post. Every writer has to start their book somehow and new writers tend to start it way too early in the story. Here, we just have a different way of attacking the same problem. One way is better, and by asking a few dozen readers, a clear winner will emerge. In fact, a clear winner is already emerging after just a few votes.


      • Soooo. You think I should go with my opening dialogue. That’s the way I’m leaning. Screw the hook.

        Sorry I’m trying shoehorn my issue in your section. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think you should start the book the way you think you should start the book, floated out to a couple of readers and see what they think. Unless everybody writes back and says this is an awful opening, it’s probably a good opening.


  4. I was bothered by the kitchen, jumped up from the desk combo. he has a desk in his kitchen? weird. It definitely got me thinking and not about what they are arguing about. So maybe look at that.


  5. Great question, Dan. I’m gonna be the oddball and vote for the first version, although with a caveat: it depends on the overall tone of the novel and how much/how importantly Roger figures in it. Here’s my reasoning. They’re both dialogue-driven; I like that. However, in the first, there’s presumably no Roger. In the second, Roger is characterized succinctly and forcefully simply by the word choices you make as a writer. In the first, Barry is taking the lead, and I like the action of him jumping from behind a desk and his comment, which I read as (perhaps over-) enthusiasm not very unlike a child’s or an excited puppy or dog. This tells me two things, one of which is that perhaps I should either spend less time or spend more time with dogs. Ha! But seriously, I think fuck has lost a good bit of its power as an ‘outsider’ or risque word over the last 5-15 years, even in the states (apparently, in the UK it’s now already on-par with the ‘lesser’ curse words like damn, etc.; my husband heard a podcast by the woman who started the “I Fucking Love Science” web site who was surprised to find that in the U.S., ‘fuck’ is more problematic). To me, now, going without a lot of expletives (again, depending on the tone of the novel and the world you’re building therein), using them in dashes of seasoning here and there as needed, is more unusual, unpredictable, and interesting. My 2 cents’! Either way, happy writing, Dan.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well, you nailed it! In the first version you got exactly what I was going for. Barry is the leader of the group and as we read chapter 1 that’s what we find out. His challenger is Roger, a much less important character in the overall story, but Roger is a bit of an antagonist in chapter 1.


  6. I liked B as Barry’s active jumping from his desk didn’t mesh well with the more passive aggressive “Come on” without first reading Rodger’s incendiary comment. I do have to agree with Tahenry’s comment though about being somewhat confused about the desk / kitchen combo. I assume the action is in one room with characters entering and exiting an adjacent kitchen, but wasn’t sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I never wondered about the furniture arrangement because the dialogue had me wondering what they were talking about right away, I think the second staring paragraph is stronger and more attention getting and it also sets up a bit about the personalities of the characters. This is more important when you introduce several people at once. And even though in the story Roger turns out to be secondary in nature, that first line establishes the type of character he is. Just my opinion!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I liked A better. I agree that fuck has lost something lately. I liked knowing that the discussion was about the dig before anything about fuckers. I’m definitely not opposed to “swear” words as they call them in Upstate NY, but in the first paragraph when I don’t even know the people seemed too soon for me. Maybe it came across as too angry when discussing archaeology. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The furniture layout makes sense, but I could throw a rock at IKEA where they’ve built a business around living in shoe boxes. So the characters are young adults.

    I vote for B. Why? Because it takes some time to understand the emotional setting. “Come on” can mean YAY, let’s go get ice cream or “Come ON, Mom” eyerolling-whiny teen, or anger, or persuasion/sales, or disbelief, or calling the family dog….or…

    I read it as “yippee, let’s go” and had a mental hiccup as to the conflict cloud (although WHY I would read it that way when no one USES it that way towards me except maybe Spongebob on TV is beyond me. And he isn’t really talking to me directly. Right?)

    If A is working better for you, maybe start it with something more definitive, like “So who’s with me?” or “So you’ll come along, right?” or “You’re all in this with me…right?” Or something. You can add that his eye is twitching or his glare dared them to disagree or something.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dan, I like the second one. Its dramatic action right from the hop, grabs your attention, making you want to know, what is coming next. The success of a story can sometimes be in the first few words. Great stuff!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. When I read opening B during the beta, it immediately got my attention. Simple, easy-to-process (any naughty) words, right from the start. I get Leigh’s points above, but I think that, as Don mentioned above, showing the relationship of the group is more important.

    I immediately grasped the type of dynamic the group had with opening B. I did not get the sense that Roger was more important than Barry; I only thought he was a dart-thrower (which works thus far, in my opinion).


  12. I just cringe at reading a lot of swearing. Here and there is one thing, but I don’t particularly care for it liberally sprinkled throughout and definitely didn’t like having it splat in my face in the first line. I think I need more time to warm up to the characters before that. That’s really my only objection to the second one. I’m assuming Roger will talk that way throughout the book? Could it start something like: “‘No way.’ Roger shook his head and left the kitchen. ‘You’re on your own.'” Just a thought, but I get where you’re going with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We actually had that conversation.

      I said, you know, by putting the F word up front, lots of readers are going to be turned off because they’ll think the book is full of cussing and it’s not.

      The reply was, on the other hand there are F bombs because these are college kids and they get in circumstances and they swear. So it’s better to let people know they can expect that type of language here and there.

      Tough call.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I see what you’re saying, but he swears and says it again w/in the first chapter. But at that point it’s not nearly as much in your face, and you’ve had a chance to understand why Roger is so adamant. Not to mention he uses other during language in between. I don’t think it would hurt your cause (it might actually help) if you don’t use it in the first line but still give him that bit. Am I making sense?

        Liked by 1 person

        • My plan is to do a manuscript search for all the cuss words and see if we can just take them out. There are lots of words you can use instead of swearing and then potentially that opens you up to a broader market. Especially if it’s a book about 22-year-olds, the demographic for that might skew a little younger and be high school or slightly younger in which case the parental involvement might dictate those words come out. It’s all on the table right now.

          Liked by 1 person

          • That’s certainly an idea. We don’t do a lot of swearing in our house (except maybe me….like when I spilled cough medicine on my foot last night and said, “Puck! …Hockey.” Um, yeah. I just know my kids are a lot more sensitive to hearing and reading stuff like that. And I figure books, TV, media in general tend to skew our perceptions and cause trends that might not have otherwise existed in the world, like the rampant use of swearing and sex in novels making it appear that it’s ‘normal’ to act and speak that way outside our own little worlds. I am wondering if I’m making sense here. I think about these things a lot but don’t usually ‘say’ them out loud. You’ve got into my serious philosophical side with this simple yes or no question on which we like better. haha I’ve been known to use the occasional “damn” and can’t count how often I’ve said “crap” (got a funny story about that one), but I’m probably one of those parents that tends to have involvement in what my kids read. I wouldn’t expect you to take it all out, though. So much depends on the characters themselves. I hope I’m only being helpful here! Let me know if not.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Oh, I cuss a lot. I always have. Since probably eighth-grade or earlier than that. And since I hung around with guys, I tend to write the way I spoke and the way the guys I hung around with spoke.

              I totally understand there are other people who don’t cuss at all. But, if my reality is that vocabulary, I’m probably going to lean towards staying with it. On the other hand, if there was only 5F bombs in the whole book, it wouldn’t be that hard to get rid of them. And of course like I said, it might be better for marketing to take them out.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Totally get that. My husband hung out with guys growing up and so did my dad (who grew up in East LA) and neither of them are big swearers. My dad does say “shicklegruber,” though. I worked with a guy once who was quite proud of his swearing habit, and prided himself on speaking so in front of his children, and wanted to warn me that I wasn’t to expect him to speak any different at work. I have a feeling you’re not the kind of guy who’s like, “yeah, stick it.” I wondered why he thought I needed the long explanation for why he did it and around whom? All that to say I know there ARE people who DO swear regularly, and so it’s not entirely out of place in a book. But don’t you wonder if maybe it’s our media and books that have taught us over the years that it’s normal or acceptable or appropriate or thoughtful or intelligent or worthwhile or helpful to speak like that? I just have to wonder . . . if we stopped seeing/hearing it as much in media across the board would it be such a commonality in our vernacular? Just a thought. It could open up your market a bit more by taking it out, but it really depends on who you wrote the book for to begin with. 🙂 I’m not far in, but I’m enjoying the beta read, btw!

                Liked by 1 person

                • As far as media influence, no. Because I can cuss like a sailor in eighth grade and I wasn’t going out and watching R-rated movies at the time.

                  It got worse as I got older because it was probably perceived to be more macho. That may have been media influence. But my friends were influencing them me the most and one of them rarely swore at all.

                  But as far as using using Dr. Seuss words, no thanks. I can control myself enough to say sugar or gobsmacker or gollywhopper, I can contain myself enough to not say anything.

                  Dad’s trying not to swear in front of their kids say words like that. College kids in front of college kids don’t. Reality plays its role.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Certainly does. No argument here. You and I are old enough that I think when it comes to the influence of media, our generation is more to blame on that account, Mr. Macho. 😉 Haha Dr. Seuss words. Expletives have their place, but why do they need to have the connotation of body parts/functions, sexual acts, and the like, is another question. Most people when something unexpected happens will use foul language, but why insert it as emphasis when there are a thousand other words that would work just as well to get a point across with out the potential of needlessly offending someone? Sometimes college kids in front of college kids do curb their choice of words. That I can attest to, at least 16 years ago I could. haha

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Yes, and like I said before, if that’s who the character is then it has its place. My only original issue was Blam! in your face in the first line. haha See, all my questioning and thoughts on the subject probably isn’t being helpful at all but maybe is food for thought.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Sure. For me, knowing that word is going to appear later in the book, it might be better to let people know upfront so that if they’re going to be offended they know what they’re dealing with and can choose not to buy the book in the first place. Rather than get three or five or 10 chapters deep and then be offended and write a bad review. That’s part of it. The other part of it is, I don’t write to offend and I don’t write to not offend. I write the story the way I feel the story needs to be told and my college experience would dictate this type of language. Many other things are going to be brought to light in uncomfortable ways throughout the story.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I see what you’re saying, and when I see F* in the first line “I’m thinking this book will be full of this. Maybe I don’t want to read it after all…” Is that what I should expect is the next question. Roger swears early enough on in the first chapter that I don’t think you’ll have issue (especially w/the option to look inside before buying on most ebooks). But this is totally just me, and you can call it devil’s advocate if you want. I don’t think most authors write with the purpose of offending anyone, and I was just speaking about that in general, by way of conversation. The guy I worked with, I felt like he was going out of his way to be offensive to me because he made a point of telling me he didn’t care if I liked it or not, he was going to do it. I didn’t argue with him, I never even said anything about it to him, but he singled me out in that and made me uncomfortable. I guess it’s the “in your face, don’t care what you think” attitude behind some of the swearing that bothers me the most. You should totally write how you will write and not be obsessing over who or what or where or when you’ll offend. It would definitely be silly to write under that dark cloud. Who would ever write if they were constantly fearful of offending someone? It is an inevitability of life. 🙂

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Well I think it goes back to your original point and my original reply which is that word is in there. By putting it in the very first paragraph it might inadvertently be implying that the book is nothing but F bombs. That was the question I raised and I got a decent reply back, but I am the one who created that phrase because that is what I would have said in response to what the guy was proposing.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I still think you can use a different turn of phrase or expression that can balance out the need for him to speak with emphasis and not throw an f-bomb in the first line. I guess that’s just me being diplomatic….Call me Marie Antoinette. Let them eat cake…have your cake and eat it, too, and all that jazz.


  13. What about: “No way.” Roger shook his head and left the kitchen. “Screw that.”
    (I’m just trying to think of alternatives that still give that first line disagreeing feel to introduce the argument. But I promise, this is the last I’ll say on it outside my beta reading comments (if I have any on this same subject) that I’ll email you when I’m done.)


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