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Opening Scenes: How Once Upon A Time Draws Us In

Updated: Apr 30

Once upon a time might be the most recognized opening line to start a book. And while Sierra Kay loves a good fairy tale storyline, her opening lines pack a punch that might inspire the big bad wolf to blow the whole darn house down.

A typewriter with "Once upon a time."

Echo Sherise Charles died on the same day she was born.

Are you hooked?

Her son was gone.

How about now? Itching for more? Then keep reading.

Seraphina Brooks Glen bit her lip, trying to ignore the stab of uncertainty that filled her as she looked up at the four-story brick structure in the affluent area of Lincoln Park.

What do these sentences have in common? If you guessed they were all the beginnings of Sierra Kay novels, you’d be right. Each book has a powerful opening scene that starts with a bang and hooks the reader from the get-go, reeling them into the story at hand.

We asked Sierra Kay about the writing process and how she starts her books with such powerful emotion.

“I usually start with the voice. I do the character work and then go back and see if it’s captivating enough.”

Sierra Kay novels are very character-driven with a three-dimensional style that makes them seem real. How real are they for her?

“Sometimes you wake up at 3 am with an epiphany, and sometimes the character talks to you, such as Behind the Curtain. That first chapter is built upon building interest in the murder,” Kay said. "It's written to pique your interest about what in the world just happened. It was about focusing on the mind of the murderer."

A bone-chilling excerpt from Behind the Curtain:

Killing seemed so easy now. But there were other ways of silencing people. Pain worked much better. Watching people break down and promise things that they never dreamed was ... exhilarating. Twenty-four hours was all it took. Cops didn’t even stir before then. And by then, most little pawns were returned to their homes. Broken. Pliable. Mine.

“In Queen of North Shore, it was more about trying to convey this deep sense of sadness, so I was really focused on Solange being by herself in the beginning. She was dealing with her new reality and you’re mired in her sorrow.”

This anguished excerpt is from Queen of the North Shore:

Solange Porter stood alone on the expansive balcony. Death was a jealous companion. It dragged beauty out the back door and replaced it with swollen, sunken eyes, the absence of color and joy.

Are you feeling the feels too? The grief is palpable. We love it when an author can get us to experience emotions vicariously through the characters, and Sierra Kay nails it with her opening scenes.

Whether it’s a peek inside the twisted mind of a killer, experiencing the deep sadness of a widow, or the sheer terror of a mother whose child has been kidnapped, Sierra Kay openings make you feel deeply and keep you reading until the end.

Which Kay novel has your favorite beginning? Comment below!

Follow Sierra Kay down the modern fairy tale rabbit hole by visiting her book library here.

Sierra Kay book backlist.

A woman reading a book.

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