Brenda Cooper

Opening Chapters

A few years ago, after BUILDING HARLEQUIN’S MOON but before I finished THE SILVER SHIP AND THE SEA, a fellow writer who was one of my first readers (Darragh Metzger) commented regularly on chapter openings.  She took me to task everytime I opened with anything except specific sensory details.  Well, for my writer’s reading group, we’re looking at George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series that starts with A GAME OF THRONES.  As a side note, it’s quite fabulous, and well-loved.  When I went to buy A STORM OF SWORDS the fellow who sold it to me at Barnes and Noble raved about the book and George R.R. Martin quite extensively. 

My job for the group this time is to analyze setting, which is a treat for this book.  I’ll blog a few lessons learned from that exercise after we meet this weekend.  But I noticed I really, really couldn’t put these books down even though I’m not reading them for the first time (except A FEAST OF CROWS, which I still haven’t read – I put that off until I found time to read these things all again, since there as such an awful gap between release dates in the series at that point – side lesson:  don’t do that to your readers).

One strength of these books is the opening of every chapter.  It’s like Darragh’s voice in the back of my head saying “See?  See?”  I’ll reproduce a few below for illustration:

The courtyard rang to the sounds of swords.” – sound, place

“Through the high narrow windows of the red keep’s cavernous throne room, the light of sunset spilled across the floor, laying dark red stripes gainst the walls where the heads of dragons had once hung.”  – sight, place, mood

The woods were full of whispers.  Moonlight winked on the tumbling waters of the stream below as it wound its rocky way along the floor of the valley.  Beneath the tress, warhorses whickered softly…”  Sound, sight, mood again.

My personal favorite from this book:

The heart was steaming in the cool, evening air when Khal Drogo set it before her, raw and bloody.” – how could you NOT read forward after that?

Darragh was right to chastise me.  At that time, I was opening my chapters with things like catching the reader up – “For the last two days…” I’m better now, but not yet as good as George R.R. Martin, for sure.  But if you have a few of those books laying about, pick one up and read the beginning of every chapter.  Pretty impressive.