Friday, December 14, 2012

Breakdown of Killer Openings, by Alexa Bourne

We all want to write books that hook our readers and keep them reading well past their bedtime. Today we're excited to welcome romantic suspense author Alexa Bourne, who's going to share a few secrets to making your book sparkle from the first sentence. Alexa is celebrating the release of the second book in her Honor Guard Series, Fractured Paradise.

Technical analyst for the International Protective Network, Rachel Grant arrives in Sunderland intent on tidying up her grandmother’s cottage, but the disaster she discovers requires more than a gentle sweep of a dust rag. Determined to please the most important person in her life, she trades her computer keyboard for a hammer and nails to make the repairs. She doesn’t count on the chilly reception from the locals who want to claim Nan’s home as their own.

Tour guide Aidan Camden wants to buy the cottage. He’s determined to acquire the property no matter how attractive he finds the current occupant. However, when tragedy strikes, throwing them both into a tailspin, he discovers he wants more than the house. He longs for the sexy American as well. Can Aidan put his own ghosts to rest in time to save the woman who’s claimed his heart?

Available now on Amazon

When I walk into a bookstore, there are some authors who are auto-buys: When their new book hits the shelves, I’m one of the first in line to buy them.  But what about authors I don’t know?  I admit that sometimes I pick up a book based on the cover, but if what’s written inside doesn’t resonate with me, I won’t buy it.  When it’s a new author, I will read the first page and if I’m not sucked in by a question, a feeling, a connection, or a need to turn the page, I’ll put the book back on the shelf and move on.

In the same way, if an author doesn’t grab the interest of an agent or editor, the book will never see the light of day and she’ll receive a nice, generic rejection. 
So, what makes a good opening?  A good opening connects a reader to what the author is writing.  It has to grab your attention.  It has to make you feel like you’re right in the story, feeling the emotions of the characters, experiencing a reaction to the situation.  Maybe you read some opening and think, “I know EXACTLY how she/he feels!”  Or “That loser!”  Or “I hope she doesn’t fall for THAT.”

Put simply:
A good first line will make you want to read the rest of the paragraph. 
A good first paragraph will urge you onto the rest of the first page.
A good first page will make you want to turn the page to see what happens next.
A good first chapter will make you check to see how long the 2nd chapter is because you only have so much time and you really, really don’t want to walk away from these characters!

Essential Elements of a Killer Opening
In crafting a killer opening, we have a difficult job.  Below are what I see as the essential aspects of a successful opening:

1. You cannot confuse your reader.  Have you ever read a first page/chapter and still had no idea what was going on?  Or how about reading and have no idea which of the men in the story is the hero?  I actually wrote a story, my 1st suspense, with two heroes.  No wonder nobody wanted to publish that!  I, as the author, couldn’t decide between the heroes so clearly my writing of that story was confusing for the romance reader expecting a solid love story. 
2. Your reader should get a sense of the setting.  A good opening shares the time (of day and year), place.  A great opening does it without telling.  For example, in my current full-length manuscript, Tell Me No Lies, my hero swipes his forearm across his forehead and curses the humidity.  Then he also talks about the baseball All-Star game.  Even if the reader doesn’t know when the All-Star game is, most people know baseball is a summer sport. 
3. Your reader must also establish a connection with at least one character.  If the reader feels sympathetic toward a character, they are more likely to turn the page and keep reading to find out what happens with that character.
4. Your reader must at least have a hint of the conflicts.  Remember, stories need internal AND external conflicts.  By the end of the first chapter, your reader needs to have some ideas of what these conflicts are.  Not everything needs to be revealed, but the reader needs to know what the problems are otherwise they will not want to keep reading.
5. Ending on a hook.  Basically, this means when someone is finished with the chapter, the reader doesn’t want to put the book down to do laundry, go to work or to cook dinner.  She would much rather find out what happens in the next chapter.       

Naturally, you can’t expect a first line to have all of these elements and maybe even the first page doesn’t either.  But I believe by the end of the 1st page we should see several of them.  Certainly by the end of the 1st chapter, we should see signs of all of them. 

Obviously putting all of these story elements together is A LOT harder than it seems when we pick up a book.  But I will tell you that it gets easier to identify what works and what doesn’t, even in your own writing, the longer you do this.  (Notice I didn’t say it gets easier TO DO! Maybe eventually? Anybody? Hello??)  

About our guest: Alexa Bourne is a teacher by day and a romantic suspense writer by nights, weekends, and all school holidays. She also teaches online classes for writers throughout the year. She will be teaching “Killer Openings” through Savvy Authors beginning in February 2013. Alexa is thrilled to be writing for Decadent Publishing and to have the chance to share her love of Great Britain with readers everywhere.

When she's not concocting sinister plots and steamy love scenes or traveling and exploring new cultures, Alexa spends her time reading, watching brainless TV and thinking about exercising. She loves to interact with readers, so visit her web page, hang out at her blog, follow her on Twitter or drop her a note at!

Also by Alexa: Her Highland Champion

Heather Winchester leads a charming life. With good friends, a beautiful flat in one of the most amazing cities in the world, and a promising future once she finishes her Ph.D, she is finally pursuing her own dreams instead of catering to everyone else’s…except she doesn’t remember any of it.

Malcolm Fraser has returned to his Highland village to forget his failings as a professional bodyguard. Believing he could just lose himself in the mundane activities of running his bed & breakfast, he finds a woman’s lifeless body by the loch instead….

Captivated by Heather as she regains her memory, Malcolm is thrown into the line of duty. As danger comes knocking on their doors, will he be strong enough to love her and keep her safe?

Available now on Amazon


  1. Great post, Alexa! For me, there's nothing worse than getting so confused by an opening line that I have to re-read it several times. It immediately draws me out of the story, and I just want to shout, 'Don't be clever! Just tell me a great story!'

    Congrats on your book release, and thanks so much for sharing with us!

  2. Great post, Alexa, and thanks for sitting in our guest seat today. I also have some authors I just buy without a second glance, but when I try something new, I always skim the back copy and the opening page to see if I like the voice as well as the premise. As writers, there's a lot of pressure to capture your audience in one or two paragraphs, and it's something I think about with every manuscript. Great insight and congrats on your release!

  3. Alexa, first I must say that I love you cover! Great colors that really catch the eye. :-)

    And your post was spot on about great openings. I just love when an author nails it and you get swept up into the story from page one.

    Congrats on your release!!!

  4. Hi Alexa, thanks so much for stopping by! What an awesome post, great advice and so true. I agree with Jen, love the cover!!
    Congrats on your release and best wishes!! :-)

  5. Natalie, I learned the hard way! I bought a book, got it home, & got lost in the first paragraph. After that, I've ALWAYS checked the first page of any new books.

    Olivia, I LOVE sitting in the guest seat! So, thank YOU!

    Jennifer and Victoria, thank you! I feel blessed with the cover designers my publisher uses. I haven't been disappointed yet!

    Thanks to everyone for commenting!