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MaeZe
04-30-2017, 12:42 AM
Heard this on PBS radio today and I couldn't find a past thread on it though it started with a Tweet from last month.

Adding ‘And then the murders began’ instantly makes any book better (https://www.dailydot.com/unclick/murders-began-books-better/)
There’s a set of commonly shared rules that tend to make fiction writing better—”show, don’t tell,” and the like—and last week, author Marc Laidlaw added a new one to the list. He posited on Twitter that any story can be enhanced by following the first line with “and then the murders began…”Lots of Tweets followed playing with the idea. Some of them are hilarious.

Bolded below is the key idea from the exercise:

The trick works because, although it can be a joke, it also reveals an underlying truth about storytelling. Any opening is better when you simulataneously reveal some tantalizing detail and create a question in the reader’s mind. In the case of “and then the murders began,” you’re introducing the shock and intrigue of serial murder, but it’s not yet clear who’s killing, who’s dying, or why. It doesn’t matter what sentence comes before a barnburner like that, it’s always going to work.

As a meme, though, it’ll probably be fairly shortlived. People picked it up and played with it on Twitter for a few days, trying to create funny juxtapositions with famous first lines, but the best possibilities were soon exhausted. And then the murders began…

[Leaves to review/edit first chapter of WIP one more time.]

Cindyt
04-30-2017, 12:53 AM
I like it. If a book doesn't have murders, a writer could put their own creative twist to it, like "And then the tragedies began." Or something that fits.

Sage
04-30-2017, 02:05 AM
Hmm, I disagree that it's always going to work or even teach the lesson it's intended to teach. I've seen plenty of openings that try to do this sort of thing (without that particular wording), and fail because the shock and intrigue work for some and seem gimmicky or overdone to others. Make it a rule for now, and it soon becomes a cliche, especially as it is soooo specific. The rule isn't "open with some tantalizing detail and create a question in the reader’s mind," which seems like sound enough advice to me; the rule is "follow the first line with 'and then the murders began.'"

"And then the murders began" is a far far cry from "Show, don't tell," and not in the least because it is, in fact, telling.

MaeZe
04-30-2017, 02:17 AM
I don't think the 'rule' was meant to be that literal.

And, like any 'rule' in writing, it's never absolute.

But I do understand what you are saying about a gimmicky opening. That would be the wrong way, IMO, to take this.

Sage
04-30-2017, 02:39 AM
I don't think the 'rule' was meant to be that literal.

And, like any 'rule' in writing, it's never absolute.

But I do understand what you are saying about a gimmicky opening. That would be the wrong way, IMO, to take this.


There’s a set of commonly shared rules that tend to make fiction writing better—”show, don’t tell,” and the like—and last week, author Marc Laidlaw added a new one to the list. He posited on Twitter that any story can be enhanced by following the first line with “and then the murders began…”
It's presented as if it's literal, although I agree that the lesson works better if it's not taken literally.

I just think of all the people who remember that "said is dead" because it's catchy...only it's the opposite of the truth.

"Show, don't tell" works very well as a shorthand because once you finally figure out what showing actually means (which admittedly, takes most of us a while to get), it can be said and known exactly what is meant by it. The words are their own instruction. And while "showing is better than telling" is a true statement, it is also a true statement that "sometimes telling works better than showing,"

"And then the murders began" doesn't give us the quick and easy instruction of "include a tantalizing detail and create a question in the reader's mind," which should really be the lesson. I shudder to think of all the openings about to be posted in the First 3 Sentences thread or in SYW that have perfectly tantalizing details but will be told need something as shocking and intriguing as serial murders would be.

As a meme, "and then the murders began" can be interesting and funny. The reason it works so well is that you know that those books that were highlighted in the article aren't actually about serial murders. In that same way, we know that those books didn't need the rule to be "better," at least not for the people who love them. That's why the idea of it as a rule is worth discussing (and this is the roundtable).

MaeZe
04-30-2017, 02:43 AM
I love your insight, Sage. Those are things I would not have thought of.

I still think there is value in the concept, but I don't disagree at all with your POV.

Ari Meermans
04-30-2017, 04:08 AM
What a marvelous hook for Marc Laidlaw's twitter feed. The hook was extreme, but effective. That thread got eyes and has people discussing it, just as we are here—both for and against the extreme nature of his particular hook—and he had people playing along. (Even Neil Gaiman dropped in to play.) The concept of a hook isn't new, though, and the most important thing to remember about hooks is that your stories need to live up to your hook's promise. Your book had better live up to the hook's promise or your readers will never trust you again. just sayin'

The best book I've read on hooks and beginnings is Les Edgerton's Hooked, which I bought in 2011. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the concept and hasn't yet read Hooked. If anyone else has a favorite on the subject, please share.

MaeZe
04-30-2017, 05:51 AM
I read Hooked a couple years ago. Now that I'm in the polishing stage, I think it's time I re-read it.

AnthonyDavid11
07-14-2017, 09:33 AM
It's a definite hook. I'd like to build up to it with something contrasting. Mary made her mother French toast. For it was her birthday and while her mother may never see Paris, Mary decided that she could offer this little bit of culinary goodness to soothe her lost hopes. Her mother bit into the toast. "Uck." She said she'd eaten better bread from the two-day old stuff at the bakery down the street. She tossed it into the trash. And then the murders began.