On Opening Lines and Opening Loops


Today, I woke up to a journal entry that I had scribbled while still half-asleep:

The blood-soaked cowboy stumbled into the Sondheim Hotel, and he brought his troubles with him.

I vaguely remember being on a school bus... my BFF Alex kneeling on the seat in front of me... hearing him tell me this story...

Unfortunately, this is the only sentence to survive, so now I have to ask...

Who is the cowboy? Why is he blood-soaked? Whose blood is it? Is he drunk, disoriented, disemboweled? Where is the Sondheim Hotel? Who/what drew him there? Are his troubles internal or external? Are they life-threatening? Is he putting other people in danger?

This reminds me of the opening line from Stephen King's Dark Tower series:

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

Both of these lines immediately introduce the protagonist, the antagonist, the setting, and the conflict, but, more importantly, they open up a whole lotta loops that compel the reader to keep reading.

Side note: the "open-loop technique" is just a fancy way of saying ask questions and withhold answers.

This works because questions = uncertainty = danger = death.

We need appropriate answers to appropriate questions to survive.

And in this case, it's questions like...

Who is the man in black? Why/who/what is he fleeing? Where is the desert? Is it safe to cross? Who/what is the gunslinger? Are they following the man in black for personal or professional reasons? Are they trying to capture or kill?

Normally, at this point, I would wrap up with some satisfying answer, but not today, my friends, not today.

Today, I have no answers.

Today, I'm just the blood-soaked cowboy who stumbled into the Sondheim Hotel and brought his troubles with him.

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