What’s in an Intro?
I am something of a novice when it comes to writing—I have a couple of stories published and I keep a blog and a website updated—that’s it. No great shakes in the grand scheme of things. But I have a passion for writing, for stories in general and it feels like writing has woken something in me. My latest story is a supernatural horror, The Green Man, published by Damnation Books. It is available to buy as an e-book from Amazon.co.uk. It tackles themes such as family, grief and faith. Real issues we deal with on a daily basis.
Reviews of my work have, so far, been kind, and long may this continue, but I’m still very much at a stage in my career where I’m shaping my voice and trying to improve as a writer. One of the focus areas for new writers in particular is the introduction to a story.
The introduction is pivotal. Firstly it sets the scene for the reader and encourages them to turn the page and keep reading. Secondly if the introduction is no good then a publisher is unlikely to read further and the story will take its place in whichever slush pile is closest, doomed never to see the light of day.
Below is the introduction to The Green Man. I have annotated my thought process, dissecting how and why I constructed the scene as I did. Hopefully I achieved what I set out to do. You be the judge.
This is not a story I have told easily; in fact, I have never spoken about it to anyone before tonight. It’s late, almost, and I’ve been sitting here for over an hour, poised in the dark of my study, without a clue where to start. My heart beats quickly, my hands tremble. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Too much happened that day, and even the eight years that have passed have not been enough to heal me. (a)
I sigh and reach past the clutter of my desk: a sleeping laptop, a charging phone, a mix of papers ranging from VAT receipts to Evie’s latest report card. I pick up the chewed pen I’ve spied trapped beneath the debris and hesitate. Maybe this story should be told face-to-face, but I’m still not ready to look someone in the eye and speak what’s on my mind. That is why I’ve chosen to write it down the old-fashioned way. This is the most human form of expression I can cope with.
There is further method in this madness. Hannah bought me this notebook, some years ago, after Doctor Adams told me that it might help me to start a journal. I never did. In fact, I ended my sessions with him not long after, so it remained blank save for a private message handwritten by my wife on the inside cover. These thoughts don’t belong alongside anything else. I gently rub my fingers across the neat curves of her handwriting in search of the strength to begin. Without her knowing it, her connection to these pages helps me. She is my crutch. I breathe a heavy sigh, and the sound is exaggerated against the eerie quiet of the house. Pen touches paper. (b)
Some context will help you before I continue. Faith had never been something that came easily to me. I grew up in the eighties, part of the cynical MTV generation that questions and derides. I believed in nothing for a long time, no God, no Heaven. Those who did, I thought, were naïve. When you die, that’s the end, was my philosophy. But this was no way to live. In times of grief I was hopeless. I wished I could lose myself in the comfort of knowing there would be something better waiting for me and my loved ones someday. But I couldn’t. Scepticism was ingrained in my nature, and I suspect I was like many people of a similar age, a product of the time. (c)
Why now, you might ask? To answer simply, my daughter Evie has prompted me to sit here in the gloom. My tumult, buried deep over the years, has started to surface. It began two days ago when she came home from school and questioned me about Heaven.
“How do we really know it exists, Daddy?”
“Will we be in Heaven together when we die, you, Mummy and me?”
“If you’re already there, how will you know it’s me, I mean when I die? What if you don’t recognize me? Will I be alone?”
She is getting older, too quickly for my liking, and it seems that with every day she loses another piece of her innocence. Her ever-sharpening mind is quite capable of forming opinions these days, and my word alone no longer seems to satisfy her.
“What do you mean, Daddy? How do you know?”
That is my quandary. How do I explain faith to a child old enough to see through me when I’m not sure of the truth? That’s why I am here. I need to make enough sense of my thoughts so that I can look my daughter in the eye and reassure her about life and death. My problem is that my journey is not something a rational man can easily explain, even to himself. (d)
Strangely, as I think back, the pen tight in my hand, the last remnants of steam drifting from the top of my quickly cooling coffee, it is the ending I remember clearest. Blue is the color I see, not green. It is the flashing blue lights on top of the police car that mesmerize me. The tangle of pain and confusion I feel is like nothing I have ever previously experienced, and I feel hopelessly alone. In that frozen moment in time, I am lost.
A policeman approaches me, grim faced. His jacket collar is pulled up as high as it will go to keep the rain out. I stand motionless in front of him, my saturated T-shirt clinging to my flesh.
“Mr. Jones, can I ask you a couple of questions?” he says dourly.
I stare through him with so many unanswered questions of my own. The stretcher passes me and I cannot bear to look at it. For the first time in my life I am certain that my mother’s premonition was true.
I believe in the Green Man.
At that time, belief should have given me faith, but my grief was too fresh, my nerves too raw. It came later, as time helped to soften the edges. Earlier that day, things had been different. The plane crash changed everything. (e)
(a) I wanted the opening to be simple and punchy and to reinforce the dread in the protagonist. From the initial paragraph the scene is set that the story is a confessional told in the first person about a traumatic event that occurred in the past.
(b) The clutter of the desk represents the protagonist’s emotional confusion. The wife and daughter are introduced here and the importance the protagonist places on his family is shown. The importance of family is a theme central to the story, and I use it to create some sympathy for my lead character.
(c) Faith, or more precisely, the protagonist’s lack of it, is critical to both the story and the lead character’s arc, and this is introduced in this paragraph.
(d) This is a recognisable dilemma, a normal situation that hopefully a reader (particularly a parent) would empathise with. The paragraph’s last line subverts this, by revealing the protagonist’s dilemma as something not normal.
(e) The introduction comes to a close and I have attempted to quicken the pace, to create some urgency in the writing. Three crucial elements of the story are introduced here to set the scene. The premonition aspect, the hint that the end results in the death of someone important to the protagonist, and that a part of the story involves a plane crash.
The aim here is simple, for the reader to want to read the next chapter and beyond, to discover how the story ends…
The Green Man is available to buy from www.damnationbooks.com
Lee Mather is a writer hailing from