Friday, May 15, 2009

The Joy of Beginning - Annie West

I LOVE the first scene of a new book. That's where the author grabs me and tosses me into a nail-biting or humorous or romantically intriguing situation. I read an opening chapter with enormous enthusiasm, expecting to be hooked so I want to read the next chapter and the next. A great opening will have so much scope for deliciously exciting tension and all sorts of possibilities. If I don't get hooked in chapter one I'm not likely to proceed to number two.

It's the same for writing. What comes to me first is usually an opening scene and setup where I see the hero and heroine, what they're doing and have some juicy problem to keep them at loggerheads but stuck with one another! Ah, the scent of new conflict in the opening pages is enough to give this writer's heart a kick start.

I was thinking about this as I recently received copies of my May UK Mills and Boon Modern story, BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INNOCENT WIFE. While I love writing openings for all my books, this one was especially fun to write.

It didn't come about because I was trying to come up with a new plot. It emerged from an article I was writing. In that I spoke about using scent to make a story come alive and gave as an example a scene that's a favourite with most romance readers and writers - the wedding. As I wrote and pondered the different emotions a bride might feel as she walked up the aisle I started to visualise a woman dressed in a bridal gown that was just a fraction too small for her (obviously made for someone else) whose heart was pounding because the last thing she wants to do is marry. But she has no choice.

Instantly I found I had two intriguing questions. Why doesn't she want to marry? Something lurking in her background perhaps? And even more to the point, why does she feel she must go through with something so repugnant to her.

It seems odd I suppose but I started the first draft not entirely sure of the answers to those questions. For the first few pages I was so busy getting deep inside Alissa's emotions that it didn't matter. But soon, thankfully, my mind came up with answers. I devised a convoluted plot that was exciting and intriguing and just a little too much to swallow. Fortunately, over a little time I pared it down to something workable. However, I hung onto the best part of all - the fact that though Alissa forces herself to turn up for the wedding against all her instincts, the tables are turned on her when the man waiting to marry her isn't the one she'd agreed to wed. Instead it's a stranger, enigmatic, powerful and dangerous.

You can imagine how the imaginative wheels started turning then!

There's no more exciting part of writing than discovering a window into a new book that grabs you from the first and that promises (if you can pull it off!) to hook other readers. The surge of enthusiasm is potent and it drags you along so you're writing and wondering and discovering as you go. It's like riding an enormous wave and striving to keep your balance as the wind rushes through your hair.

For me, there are so many memorable openings. Books I've adored where the writer drew me instantly into an exciting new world just waiting for me to explore. Michelle Douglas' heroine who's so out of her comfort zone she climbs a clothesline rather than face the hero's dog in The Loner's Guarded Heart. Anna Campbell's Untouched where the heroine is kidnapped to amuse a madman. Susan Napier's Secret Admirer where the heroine is stuck in a lift with a gorgeous stranger while she's wearing a fur coat and nothing else. Trish Morey's The Italian Boss's Mistress of Revenge where Dante believes the woman sleeping in his bed is waiting just for him. Christine Wells' The Dangerous Duke where we first see the Duke dangling a man by his ankles out of a window. The Sheikh's Unsuitable Bride by Liz Fielding, where we know from the start that Diana is the worst choice of chauffeur for Sheikh Zahir and therefore absolutely perfect for him!

What do you love in an opening? What hooks you? Do you have any favourites you want to share?

Annie's so thrilled about the release of BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INNOCENT WIFE this month, she'll send a signed copy to someone who contributes a comment. In the meantime, if you want to find out more about the book visit her website at or you can buy the book from Amazon UK.


Michelle Douglas said...

Ooh, Annie, is there anything better than a fantastic, drag-you-in-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth opening? Except perhaps a dreamy, curl-your-toes ending... and chocolate.

You have the talent in spades too! There's the heart-in-your-mouth excitement of The Sheikh's Ransomed Bride (and you know how much I love that book). The instant empathy of The Greek's Convenient Mistress (who can resist a heroine who's throwing up in a toilet). Not to mention the intensity of The Desert King's Pregnant Bride (you do one mean sheikh!).

What do I most love in an opening? Action, for sure. But more than anything, instant empathy with a character in a tight spot - that will keep me reading on and on and on. Perhaps that's why I always rush out to grab your books the moment they hit the shelves!


Annie West said...

Hi Michelle,

I know what you mean about dreamy endings (and chocolate!) but still, it's the openings that work best for me. Hey, how terrific of you to think of my opening scenes. It's such fun coming up with the beginning, don't you find? That spark of excitement and fun is so real. I remember one of my books where I was chuckling as I wrote the first few pages because the hero I was channelling was so successful and used to getting his own way I knew he was in for a tremendous fall before he could win the woman of his heart. I had no idea how that would happen but the anticipation was so strong.

Oh yes, great point about the empathy for characters from the start. If I don't feel for a character I don't want to read on.


Eva S said...

Hi Annie,
my favorite openings are always about the characters, I love to know something about them...I don't want the hero to appear in the middle of the book! And I want some fun too!
One of my favorites is His Mistress by Morning by Elizabeth Boyle, the heroine wished to be the woman the hero loved, and next morning she woke up in his bed! But not as his wife, but as his mistress!! There was a magic ring involved...I couldn't wait to read more!

Maureen said...

It's so true. A good beginning to a story can keep me reading even when I have a million other things to do. What usually hooks me are questions. If I have questions I need answered about these characters then I'm going to keep reading

Caroline said...

Hi Annie - great blog. An author must know that she has to grab the reader (the hook) in the opening or risk losing the reader at the start! As a reader I love a gripping opening! Nothing else works for me! Dialogue or someone watching something unfold is a good way of getting my interest. Something like "Is she dead?" or "I hate you!" etc. I mean ya gotta carry on reading that haven't you! Take care. Caroline x

robynl said...

I love some melodramatic happening at the start where you just want to keep reading and find out how it ends or works out.
Like the openings where the hero has just ridden off and the heroine finds out she is pregnant but hasn't had a chance to tell the hero.

Virginia said...

A good beginning is the most important part of a book. If you get hooked there you can't put them down. A little mystery in the beginning helps out a lot. Those unanswered questions.

Anna Campbell said...

Annie, what a fantastic blog. And as a reader, the opening of your wonderful new book is still heart-stoppingly good. Alyssa and Dario grab you by the throat and don't let you go till the end.

Hey, thanks for mentioning Untouched. The weird thing is the actual opening wasn't my original idea. And I spent forever trying to get that opening right only to end up scrapping it on my agent's advice at the last minute. The book currently opens with my heroine tied to a table and waking up after having been drugged and kidnapped and listening to the baddies talk about their nefarious plans for her, including what she's meant to do with a madman. Eeek! The original opening actually described the drugging and kidnapping. Strangely, it turned out I didn't need that at all.

Favorite openings? Ooh, lots! I'm with Michelle. That opening of the Sheikh's Ransomed Bride has to be up there, especially when Rafiq turns up in his pirate guise. Lord of Scoundrels which breaks all the rules because it's all back story and it's all in omniscient point of view but it just breaks your heart and sets you up to fall in love with Daine. Christine's Duke. Wait till you read Christine's latest - Wicked Little Game. Ooh la la!

Michele L. said...

Hi Annnie,

A good first paragraph that leaves me questioning what is going to happen and wanting more is my favorite kind! I like the kind where I have to read the 2nd, 3rd and 4th paragraphs right away! Action, suspense, mysterious, or a simple open-ended paragraph that leaves you saying, "What did he/she do?" ...oooo...always grabs me!

Your books are awesome Annie! Congrats on your new book! WOOHOO!

Helen said...

Hi Annie

WOW I am with you on the first chapter in a book and all the ones that have been mentioned I totally agree with. I loved Anna Campbell's Untouched and Christine Wells The Dangerous Duke both had fantastic openings and who can forget Maggie walking through the rain to be rescued by Khalid woohoo.
I do love to get to know the Heroine and Hero and feel their emotions in the first chapter it always makes for a great book that I don't want to put down.

Congrats on the new release I am looking forward to its release here in Oz

Have Fun

Annie West said...

Eva, 'His Mistress By Morning' sounds a treat. A magic ring? What fun that would be. No wonder you were hooked at the beginning.

Like you I don't think I'd enjoy a book where the hero appeared half way through the story. I love to get closely involved with characters early so I can identify with them. That's why having something happen to them early drags me in. Like waking up in the hero's bed and not knowing how she got there!

Annie West said...

Hi Maureen,

Great point about questions to be answered to keep you interested. For me it's often 'what will happen next?' or 'how will she get out of that?'- sometimes even when I'm writing! I agree, that the sense of anticipation and curiosity are a big part of why we read on. Isn't it great when you read a book that sets up a lot of those questions right at the beginning?

Annie West said...

Ooh yes, Caroline, fabulous dialogue is a great hook to a writer, isn't it? I once wrote a piece about my favourite openings and believe me, a lot of them had stunning dialogue or intriguing set ups within the first line or two. It makes me feel like the writer is going to deliver on a great story.


Annie West said...

Oh, Robyn, don't you feel for a heroine in those circumstances? Especially if she hasn't a clue where he's gone. If you like a dramatic opening you might want to try either 'Blackmailed Bride, Innocent Wife' or 'The Greek's Convenient Mistress' - they're both definitely in that range. Stories that start on a point of major change in the character's life are the ones that draw me in most, especially dramatic change (G)!


Annie West said...

Hi Virginia, nice to have you here. You and Caroline are on the same wavelength! Those niggling questions are such fun. Personally I particularly enjoy stories where the heroine has been pushed into a tight corner and now the walls are closing around her, forcing her in a dircetion she absolutely doesn't want to go so I wonder how she's going to react and whether she'll really follow that path.


Annie West said...

Hi Anna, I'm so glad you got hooked by the opening of 'Blackmailed Bride, Innocent Wife'. Actually, I've just had some more reader feedback from Britain about that - so I have the world's hugest smile right now.

Can't wait to read 'Wicked Little Game' when it hits the bookstores. I keep hearing so much about it. And your own 'Tempt the Devil' packs a real punch of an opening. Not an action sequence but so loaded with tension and promise and 'what ifs'.


Annie West said...

Hi Michele, it's great to see you here, and thanks for the wrap on my stories!

I love those books too, where you must just read another paragraph and another before you put them down. But they can be dangerous. I ended up once reading 5 chapters of a book when I'd only meant to read for 15 minutes! (G)


Annie West said...

Hi Helen, you're awake early on an Aussie Saturday morning!

So glad you enjoyed Khalid and Maggie's meeting in my last book. I agree, it's all about tapping into emotions, isn't it? Without that I wouldn't need to read on to see what happens because I wouldn't have begun to identify with them.

Have a great weekend!


Anna Campbell said...

Hey, thanks, Helen and Annie! I'm loving this discussion of great openings. It's something most writers, including me, tend to sweat over until we get it right because we know the reader's whole relationship with the story is set up in those first few pages.

Pat Cochran said...

Hi, Annie,

Curiosity catches me every time!
That first line makes me want to
know how the person or situation
got to this point. It also draws
me toward what happens next!

First lines I've read recently:

"There's a naked man in the swimming pool," Christina Skye,
My Spy.

"He hung suspended in emptiness,
caught neatly between heaven and
hell," Jean Ross Ewing, Flowers
Under Ice.

"Aw hell. Not "Jingle Bells."
Beth Andrews, A Not-So-Perfect

Pat Cochran

Annie West said...

Anna, I don't sweat over beginnings to start with. I just dive straight in and enjoy them. Of course, then I have to go back and check that they work!


Annie West said...

Hi Pat,

Thanks for sharing those fantastic opening lines. I particularly like the naked man in the swimming pool (G)! Aren't great opening lines a treat?


Annie West said...

Hi everybody,

Just to let you know I'll be back later to check the comments and draw a winner. I have to go out for a little while. So look out later for a winner!


macbeaner said...

Hi Annie,

Sounds like a great book. I never really thought about what draws me into a book. I guess if it has a slow start, I get bored easily. But once I get into a book, I usually have to know what happens next!

Fiona Lowe said...

This article was great timing for me! Thanks, Annie!

RachieG said...

Love the beginning of a book..such great new possibilities and a new beginning for everyone. :) I simply like entering the new world, you know?

Interesting and fun blog post! :D Congrats on your new book!!

rachie2004 AT

Annie West said...

Hi Macbeaner,

Yes, I've been known to stick with books that start slowly. So long as they build momentum and keep me engaged! I'm quite fond of Dickens and he doesn't start with a bang (G).


Annie West said...

Hi Fiona, I knew you were starting a new book. Glad the timing was good for you. Best of luck with the story.


Annie West said...

Hi Rachie,
Yes, I do know what you mean about entering a new world full of possibilities. For me it's like opening a door and peeking through and finding something (hopefully) enthralling.


Annie West said...

Hi everyone,

I realise it's late at night for most of you. Thanks so much for stopping by to talk beginnings. I've really enjoyed the discussion. It's great to hear what other people like about beginnings.

I loved your responses and couldn't choose between them for a winner so, with family help, I did a random draw. The winner of a signed copy of BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INNOCENT WIFE is ROBYN.


If you email me at I'll forward you your prize.

For those who missed out, I'm running website contest offering this book and THE GREEK'S CONVENIENT MISTRESS (June release in North America). Details are at

Thanks again for chatting. I've had fun.