by Lucy Appleby
Thanks to the organisers of Spanking Round Table Discussions for asking me to host a discussion topic on my blog. This is my first time participating, and I'm more than happy to do so as the topic is one that really interests me. I reckon it's an irrefutable fact that if a reader isn't 'hooked' by a good opener, they move on and find something more engaging – and given that a staggering 40,000 ebooks are released onto Amazon every month, there are plenty of alternatives for the would-be purchaser. I've worked in publishing - that first page is crucial. It's also the part of the story most looked at by potential agents and publishers.
Making a good first impression is paramount, so let's look at some of the issues surrounding opening paragraphs...
A good opening paragraph to a story, like a door half-open to a dark room, throws in a shard of light that shows its depth but not all the details. Those crucial first pages should hook the reader, intrigue them, make them formulate questions and want answers. By their choice of words, a good author is able to reel the reader in, making the readers wonder who certain people are and why they are behaving in the way they do.
Openings can be tough to write, and sometimes, if we try too hard, we end up with a somewhat forced and laboured paragraph, or we lose the momentum of our idea. A good opening suggests the nature of the story about to unfold. It pitches the reader into the story's place and time setting, its tone and narrative stance providing a taster of what is yet to come. If the reader is engaged by the opener, they will likely move forward and read more; if not, the reader stops and goes to find something else. Good openers comment on an action associated with the unique premise of the story, or its precipitating event or underlying conflict.
An opening can do any of the following:
Set the scene
Set the mood
Indicate place and time
The above points apply just as much to spanking fiction as they do to mainstream fiction. I've read some spanking books where the first scene is a huge hype of narrative fireworks, involving fearsome paddlings and whippings and yells, or overloaded with major sex, or significant life changing decisions made and announced with a fanfare of rhetoric... only to discover that the whole thing kind of fizzles out later on like the proverbial damp squib. Too much too soon can disengage the reader. It can also challenge credibility.
One way to develop criteria for judging the effectiveness of your opening paragraphs is to review ones you particularly like, ones that resonate in your mind. Then return to your own opener and reassess, making changes to improve it. Writing is like a good pot of chilli - the more you reheat it and taste it, the better it gets!
The following points can help to sharpen up the opening passages:
Opening the story at a crucial point, such as the revelation of an important secret
Presenting a unique problem
Describing a dynamic action scene
Providing some kind of mystery
Presenting questions that need answering
There are three essential elements for a spanking story: a bottom, an implement, and someone to ensure that the bottom and the implement engage in a way designed to thrill and entertain the reader. Throw into the mix a budding relationship involving a dominant Alpha male and we're hooked. For those of us with the spanking kink, our specific genre has so many possibilities for good stories involving for example, naughty wives' who overspend on credit cards, crash their spouse's car, have temper tantrums and generally misbehave to attract the attention of the guy they have the hots for – all of which results in a spanking. Such stories can have an opener where the main protagonist is filled with guilt and feels apprehensive... or even excited anticipation (and why not - spankings can be such fun!). If an opener begins with someone maxing out on a credit card, the reader just knows there will be trouble ahead and spankings to follow, and hopefully they will carry on reading to discover what happens next.
“Words somehow arrive,” says the Scottish poet Robert Crawford. “A phrase sticks in your head and others accrete round it” … rather like iron filings drawn to a magnet. English is a wonderfully expressive and almost limitless language. Admittedly there are only so many ways to express words like 'Crack!' 'Ow!' 'Thwack!' but someone who has fine-tuned their craft of writing can produce wonderful descriptions of the sound a paddle or hand or strap makes on bare flesh, or the nature of a spankee's cries. The need to keep the reader’s interest means that being concise is important. Mindless waffle is seldom useful in persuading the reader to stick around, and nowhere is this more important than in the opening paragraphs.
Okay, on to the nitty gritty … here are a few openers from spanking tales. Some openings pace the hook gently, each subsequent sentence strengthening the hook until realization dawns – you are so caught up in the narrative you are at grave risk of staying up until four in the morning finishing the book.
The Postmistress & The Gardener by Lucy Appleby (A Femdom romance)
It was a typical Monday morning in the post office, with the usual queue of people who poured through the door at opening time, each intent on pursuing their individual errands. As they waited in line, most chatted to others in the queue; in a small village, everyone knows everyone else's business.
Or at least that is the perception.
If they had known that their efficient new flame-haired postmistress was sitting behind the counter resting her feet on the cane-striped buttocks of a naked man, they would have had a conversation topic to keep tongues wagging for a decade.
Captive's Desire Natasha Knight
Livvie rolled her aircraft onto the runway, listening to the heavy steel doors slide closed behind her. She forced in a shallow breath and gripped the throttle with sweaty hands.
“Officer Jenkins requesting permission for launch,” she spoke into her headset.
Her heart raced. Today's mission was the last in a series of tests. Just one more to pass before earning her place as a pilot of the Hunter-Killer squadron of Magnus One, one of the last two remaining cities on earth. At twenty, she'd be one of the youngest women ever to join such an elite group, and, although proud, she couldn't shake the anxiety she felt today.
Buccaneer by Rue Chapman
Charlotte heard the pounding of feet on the deck overhead, and huddled into the corner of her tiny cabin. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, not even any furniture to move to block the door. A bunk, a hook on the wall to hang her clothes, a tiny porthole - and Lady Charlotte Herrington, her dark hair in a wild tangle around her face, her blue eyes wide with fear.
More shouts from above, then heavy footsteps moving closer. Below decks now, coming towards her cabin. Charlotte's hands were slick with the cold sweat of fear.
Suddenly the door swung open, slamming against the wall. The man who stepped into her cabin seemed huge in that tiny space. His hair was a wild golden mane, his eyes a strange golden brown, he was all predator. He paused for a moment, surveying the sweet vision in front of him, then sketched a bow. His pretence of civility was a studied insult.
"Lady Charlotte, I presume?"
The Beachcomber's Love by Abigail Armani
Greg ducked his head as he came out of the low door of his cottage - one of a row of brightly painted, red-roofed fisherman's cottages that nestled shoulder to shoulder, flanked from the northern gales by the lofty crag above. From a distance the cottages appeared to tumble down the steep cliff side to the seafront below.
The late afternoon September sun shone on the sweep of golden sand and glinted on fossil-filled pools. He never tired of wandering along the tide line of the bay, especially off-season when the tourists had fled from the blustery north Yorkshire winds to find warmer climes down south.
It was low tide, and the beach was deserted save for the gulls as they wheeled through the sky and skimmed the surface of the sea to bob comically on the eddying waves.
He set off along the mile-wide bay, a fossil-seeker's paradise. Had any woman been watching, she would have found him an arresting figure, tall - 6ft 4 - darkly handsome, chocolate brown eyes with a sensuous glint, and a smile to set pulses racing and just the right amount of stubble to be sexy.
Discipline with Love by Geraldine Hillis
Joanna stood facing the wall of the bedroom, her mind spinning with confused emotions. Some time soon, Graeme would come through the door, and she would be faced with the biggest decision of her life - to accept and stay - or to refuse and go. She leant her forehead against the cool pine panelling, and thought over the events which had led her to this pass.
Seems Like Old Times by Rosanna Young
Sharon cursed as she tried to untangle herself from the fishing line that was going to strangle her. The harder she tried to untangle herself, the more wrapped up in it she became, until she threw the pole to the ground in a fit of pique. "Motherfu..." she mumbled, as she felt the fishing hook catch in her hair.
"I'd watch the language if were you," a very masculine voice said from behind her.
Cocktails & Roses by Elizabeth Belmont
"Oh my God! Woman, you don't just burn your bridges, you blow up the road as well." Laughing at both the unfolding story and the young woman gracing her San Francisco bedroom, Kylee handed her best friend since grade school a second glass of Pinot Noir and took a seat on the cushioned bench at the end of the bed. "I mean, no kidding; all his stuff out the window?"
Accepting the offered glass of ruby comfort, Valerie leaned back against the oak headboard of Kylee's bed, taking a deep sip. "Shirts, pants, you name it, right out the window."
Shaking her head, Kylee took her own swig of Napa Valley red and leaned forward to rest her arm on the blue silk of her favorite bedspread. "OK, Val, we've had our wine and you've had your cry. Now spill."
Cassie's Space by PK Corey
Have you ever wondered how others view you? I recently had the privilege of accidentally overhearing two ladies discuss me. While I realise most people frown upon eavesdropping, I couldn't stop my ears from perking up and listening.
“She's such a lady. Wouldn't you like to be like that someday, refined, gracious and elegant? I think she could wear a potato sack and still look like a queen. I love to hear her laugh: You can tell she just enjoys herself wherever she is. She's fun to be around.”
“I think it's Tom who keeps her so happy,” the other lady chimed in. “He's pretty darned good looking for an older man. And they are so sweet together. He holds chairs for her, opens the car door even, they hold hands - I think they're precious. I want to be her when I grow up - the perfect, southern lady.”
Spank!2 by Penelope Hasler and Becky Sharpe
It was nearly time. Lisa peeked through the blinds again, watching for the car's approach. A pair of headlights appeared in the distance – swimming through the darkness – was this him? - But they carried on past the house and disappeared. She went back to pacing round the lounge.
As she paced she was both scared and excited by the knowledge that she was about to be punished. She had dreamt, many times, of being spanked over a man's knee, but she was about to experience it for real. Would she enjoy it? Would he spank very hard? The thought that she was about to learn the answer to that second question made her heart pound in her chest like a drum.
My Texas Cowboy by Abigail Armani
The day dawned bright and clear, at odds with the dark-clad figure who moved furtively between the trees. He moved swiftly yet cautiously over the grass, intent on keeping his presence secret, taking care not to step on any dry twigs and attract unwanted attention. He manoeuvred himself into a position where he had an uninterrupted view of the Armstrong ranch, and as he settled down to wait, his face darkened as malice and anger took hold.
It was only a matter of time before they stepped out, as he knew they would. He had quickly discovered their habit of a brief early morning stroll followed by ten minutes or so sitting beneath the cypress tree. His eyes narrowed with resentment as he watched them, the big handsome Texan and his girlfriend. He dismissed the man, and let his gaze drink in the sight of the woman. Even at this early hour, without makeup, dressed in a pair of frayed jeans and a pale yellow shirt, she looked stunning. Her waist-length hair was the colour of a raven's wing, black with a faint almost blue sheen that sparkled in the sunlight.
I hope you all find this topic as fascinating as I do. I can't possibly do it justice in 2,000 words, but I hope you have enjoyed the snapshot and I look forward to your views. To any writer reading this - may you create opening lines to fall in love with and may the hooks of your books grab the reader and not let go!
Thanks for dropping by, and don't forget to visit the other participating blogs.
Lucy Appleby (AKA Abigail Armani)