Monday, September 26, 2022

The Beginning Three Times Over by Nancy L. Eady


I have been editing my first mystery novel for a very long time now, so long that I put it away last year and am just now getting started on one final edit.  I thought I'd share you with the original opening lines, and the first revision and the latest version. 


The 2011 annual Christmas dinner for the local Webster County bar was memorable. Due to a hectic trial docket, the dinner was held December 23, much later than normal, and a rare dusting of snow greeted each of us as we entered the venerable, but still elegant, Radford Grill. The party’s attendance was up that year; William Henderson, the esteemed local bar president for the last 15 years (mostly because no-one else could be bothered with it) and head of the local Democratic party for the last 20 years (mostly because nobody was better at it) had arranged for an after-dinner speaker of national prominence, an unusual treat for our normally cash-strapped local association.

Memorable achieved never-to-be-forgotten status after the national speaker (who was every bit as good as anticipated) stopped talking. As the applause died down, William stood up from the white clothed head table and went to the podium.

"I'd like to thank my good friend, Tim Tolar, for that wonderful presentation. Now, folks, it's up to you whether you want to..."

At that  moment, Jackson Herring threw the double oak doors at the entrance to the meeting room open with a bang and strode purposefully towards William at the podium.


Christmas, cocktails and crime are a curious combination and one that none of us – not me, not Boyd and especially not William - were ready for. When I first arrived at the Christmas Dinner for the combined Webster and Windover County bar, the most trying ordeal I anticipated enduring was coping with Boyd’s latest dating partner, Cindie with an “ie.”

I had counted myself lucky, though, when Boyd sat by me, and Cindie with an “ie” sat on his other side at the half table allocated to our firm. I would like to be able to say that I couldn’t understand what Boyd saw in Cindie with an “ie” (she had introduced herself that way to so many people that I couldn’t separate the name from the qualifier), but the reasons were self-explanatory. Boyd certainly hadn’t been looking for character or intelligence when he asked her out.  As president of the Webster County bar, William, our senior partner, and his wife Molly, along with Molly’s guide dog Sidney, were at the head table.

We had made it through dinner and finished listening to the nationally known speaker that William had persuaded to speak to our always cash-strapped local association, when it happened.

"I'd like to thank my good friend for that wonderful presentation. Now, folks, it's up to you whether you want to..."

At that moment, Jackson Herring threw the double oak doors at the entrance to the meeting room open with a bang and strode towards William at the podium.


            Formal business functions are not my thing.  It didn’t help that this particular function, the joint Christmas banquet for the Webster and Windover County bar associations, was scheduled on Friday December 23.  Unfortunately, as the youngest lawyer in our three-person firm, my absence would have been too conspicuous.  I consoled myself with the thought that the biggest challenge I had to weather was meeting Boyd’s date.  I was wrong. 

            Whatever Boyd saw in Cindie with an “ie” (she had introduced herself that way to so many people that I couldn’t separate the name from the qualifier), kindness wasn’t it.  She was politely cool towards me even though Boyd and I were friends and co-workers.  Her green eyes, fair coloring and striking red hair eclipsed my straight brown hair and matching eyes.  I remind strangers of their first spouse or someone they knew in grade school.

William, our senior partner, along with his wife Rose, her golden retriever guide dog lying patiently beside her, had to sit at the head table rather than at our firm’s allotted half-table because he was president of the Webster County bar. To accommodate the lawyers of the two rural counties, the restaurant had to arrange banquet seating for 30 attorneys plus spouses and significant others. The venerable Radford Grill, the town of Robersdel’s oldest restaurant, had done its best, but the white-clothed circular tables were a tight fit. The rectangular head table, raised on a slight dais, was adorned with a wide evergreen centerpiece stretching the length of the head table, dotted with candles and cherubic faced Santas. This created a strange illusion—the heads of the lawyers and spouses sitting there floated, disembodied, above the rest of the assembly. At least the savory smells from the kitchen were promising. 

As William stood at the front table to make the traditional opening remarks, the dark paneled double oak doors across the room slammed open. Sheriff Jackson Herring strode up the narrow aisle, then skirted the head table until he stood behind William.  

            So which version do you like best?  Would you read any further based on any of these?  What struggles do you have with the opening lines of your own novels?


  1. love your latest revisions!

    Yes, I re-wrote the first 10 pages of my WIP at least 200 times.

  2. Openings are so hard! I remember writing a short story (over and over). When I received the edits back, the editor had suggested taking out the first five pages - all backstory, she said. And she was right.
    So interesting and fun to see your progress - each iteration gives us a different take. I think the last one had more of a flavor of your protagonist's voice and took us into the action faster.

  3. Yep, need to grab them and hold them with those first few paragraphs.

  4. You make the case for careful editing!

  5. I liked the third beginning, less exposition and more action. I would love to read on!

  6. I'd go with the third. Character building & voice, with a nod to setting. Very effective.

    The first is background. I tend to go there. How can anyone read my story if I don't give them any context for what's going to happen? But I've learned that if I start with any type of information dump, nobody's going to read the story, anyhow.

    Second one might be okay with most readers. It does stray a bit into one of my personal dislikes, however--unsubstantiated hints and teases that feel to me as if the author is deliberately leaving us in the dark about important details the s/he knows, but won't share, which seems like a form of cheating.

  7. You're definitely going in the right direction with each revision. Brava! The third has the right amount of character introduction + setting + info so we're not confused + fun bits. Your writing voice is fantastic in all of them. I would definitely read on! A surprisingly large percentage of my writing time is spent re-writing my first chapter. My draft is fast and loose, except for my first chapter. That one I always have to get right before I can continue on. (But then I still revise/tweak it a ton of times.)

  8. I enjoyed seeing how your slant changed with each new opening. I, too, like the third best. I like knowing more about the I of the story. For me, always the most interesting character.

  9. Loved seeing the evolution of a work in progress. My favorite was the latest. It ticked all my boxes and yes, I'd read on! When do we get that privilege?