The All Important Opening Image (Plus Writing Excercise!) by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

I do a long, involved, very unblog-like blog about writing craft.

It gets a lot of hits, but few have the patience to read through the detailed, and abstract, prose. I am the despair of every SEO expert.

Some of my blog entries take an hour or more to read, and are full of back-links to previous related discussions as well as out-links to news articles on related matters, sometimes quoted during the exposition.

It is a very boring blog for non-writers.

My novels, on the other hand, sparkle, grab, entertain and enthrall.

On the fan group for Sime~Gen (one of my Universes) on Facebook, a fan has recently been reading through the fanfic that we (Jean Lorrah and I own Sime~Gen Inc. which owns the Sime~Gen franchise) have posted on

Jean Lorrah_pic

She recently posted to the Facebook Group the observation that she had to stop picking up the fanfic at night because she keeps staying up to 4 AM reading. Here’s a quote from her on one of the fan written stories:

——————-quote from Facebook————


Two days in a row, reading the same book until 4 AM. (All the way through both times. It’s not a super long novel.) (Also, I had a long nap earlier this evening.) I cannot praise A COMPANION’S DUTY by M. Alexis Pakulak highly enough. This is a magnificent Sime~Gen novel, and I think it’s going to wind up in the list of my absolute favorite SF. The relationships are beautifully depicted, there are visionary elements and philosophy worthy of Jacqueline Lichtenberg herself, and the setting – a tiny, isolated Householding and town high in the mountains of what I’m guessing is now British Columbia – focuses and intensifies everything. Thank you so much.
Published in CZ #21

————-end quote from Facebook————–

A COMPANION’S DUTY won an award. (Click the title to read about the award and to read the story.)

I use the generation of fan fiction that is enjoyed by fans of the original work as the measure of how visually penetrating the original work was.

Star Trek is the most prominent example of this in the science fiction area, but for centuries fans of novels have been rewriting the endings and sharing their creations. Fanfic is not new, but even today few text-only based works of fiction have generated vast amounts of fanfic.

My own fan fiction work (Star Trek, my series is called Kraith) was highlighted in a French TV documentary in 2016. The producer, came to my house to tape an interview and used a few bits of me, plus a lot of what I explained to her:

And, fans of my Star Trek fanfic wrote reams and reams of fanfic in my alternate universe Star Trek. All of that is posted online for free reading:

Here is a link to the Amazon page with a list of the currently available, professionally published Sime~Gen books:

At this time, 2016, another one of my writing students whose new series is getting much awards attention including Hugo and Nebula, has asked me to contribute to a fanfic in his series to be written by professional writer-fans of his and published by his mainstream publisher.

So the quesstion is, how do you do this on purpose?

How do you create fiction that will grab your readers and shake them until CREATIVITY HAPPENS?

“Creativity Happens” is the main theme of Sime~Gen. Simes and Gens are two types of humans who generally avoid each other. When they come together, live together, form a community, creativity is unleashed such as humanity has never seen before.

Currently, one of the Sime~Gen fanfic writers, Mary Lou Mendum, is working on a to be professionally published Sime~Gen trilogy that illustrates how exactly this release of creativity changes that future history world.

What is the key ingredient that you can use to boost your fiction into this realm of generating creativity in others?

The answer comes from screenwriting.

Read the series of books on screenwriting called SAVE THE CAT!


Study the Beat Sheet presented in these books (beat, as in music, refers to pacing, tempo). Study in particular the Opening Image. You will understand it from the film examples he gives in some of these books.

Generating the correct opening image (not just a spiffy or popular one, but the artistically correct one for your particular theme-plot-story) is the key. How to figure out what that image is for your work is the subject of many of my (long, boring) blog posts on writing craft.

For STAR TREK the image that moved fanfic writers was not the opening image of the series (space the final frontier).

Roddenberry often said (to me as we were interviewing him for the non-fiction book STAR TREK LIVES! about why people love Star Trek) that to him, STAR TREK was all about the adventure, about exploring beyond the frontier, and that is the opening — where no man has gone before. That is an exact thematic statement.

But fanfic didn’t erupt until the famous briefing room scene that Leonard Nimoy directed and acted in where Spock cries over his mother’s love (due to alien influences, of course).

In that scene, it is THE EARS as well as the tears, that utterly and completely sent every woman watching into Spock Shock — and resulted in Spockanalia the first science fiction fanzine to carry FICTION written by amateur writers. Hitherto, fanzines had only non-fiction content.

For STAR TREK the “opening image” that sparked creativity is not actually at the very beginning. Star Trek is two shows – one for men and one for women – one about the free-wheeling adventure only bachelors can have and one about how any real woman would rescue those poor bachelors from their lonely lives. That’s what the fanfic was about – Spock’s lonliness. And the image is THE EARS.

We mostly didn’t have color TV at that time, so though Spock was greenish, few knew and those who knew just thought their TV set was out of tune.

For Sime~Gen THE IMAGE is all about The Tentacles. is a free book the publisher offers as an intro to Sime~Gen.

SimeGen Minipack_JL_cvr


Concocting that Opening Image – the composite image that “opens” the story for your reader, invites them in, makes them feel comfortable and uncertain at the same time, requires a Master Craft level in writing.

It can be broken down into steps, into elements, various mental exercises that eventually allow the stories seething in the subconscious to present themselves in images. It takes practice. It takes drilling, like for a spelling bee, or syncrhonized swim team match.

SAVE THE CAT! shows you what to practice and why.

My Tuesday entries on Alien Romance show (often without telling) you how exactly the inside of a writer’s mind works to produce the finished product.

In truth, writers don’t think like other people.

Writers think backwards from the way others think.

Writers accept headlines and science articles, and comment-blather on Facebook, and even TV Commercials, soak it all up, mill it over and recompile the pieces into something “the same but different.”

There are thousands of books on “how to write” — and most of them boil down to “well, you have to produce this result.” That is no help at all to someone trying to sell their fiction commercially. A writer can’t tell by reading their own words if they have accomplished the recommended result.

And if rejections pile up, the writer has no idea why, or if the writer grabs onto a theory of why, the writer has no idea HOW to make their brain produce the required result.

My blog posts on Alien Romance are all aimed at letting you watch my mind soak up bits of our current world and mill them over, re-arrange them, and relate the result to novels.

I review some novels publishers send me for review (not all, just some) and explain what the writer did that you can learn to do. I also pinpoint what is wrong in a given work, and how it might be improved — or how it can be changed to be publishable in a different genre or sub-genre.

Along the way, I discuss a lot of very abstract and boring subjects you probably learned in college, but what you learned was all wrong for commercial fiction markets.  Symbolism is one of those topics you encounter in Literature classes. What you learn from professor analysis of fiction will prevent you from creating commercial fiction.

How many of the great classics (other than Sherlock Holmes maybe) have millions of words of fanfic in print?

So I’ve done a lot of blog posts on symbolism from entirely different angles. I have approached it from various esoteric schools of knowledge, such as Tarot and Astrology, and from Screenwriting, and various schools of psychology.

Here is my series on Tarot Just For Writers compiled into a handy and cheap Kindle edition:

20 of these chapters (in first draft form) are posted for free reading on the Alien Romance blog. Here are the index posts with links to Tarot:

Here is one blog from 2009:

And here is an index of the posts on Astrology Just For Writers about how to use astrology in writing without actually learning any:

And here is one on Theme-Symbolism Integration — with links to previous ones in the series — especially focused on Why Do We Cry At Weddings?

Making your reader laugh, cry, gasp, or shout for joy is your job.

Emotion is what the writer gets paid for. Well, yes, and making a reader stay up to 4AM, too, but they tend to hate you for it. I know because I hear from them. A lot.

Why do readers stay up to 4AM against all adult judgement?

Is it suspense?


At least not with my readers, who tend to reread the books again and again, and still stay up all night — and then maybe write some stories of their own. And the fanfic is having that same effect, as you can see from the quote from Facebook.

Theme is one of the major, core ingredients in the composit opening image you must create.

As with Gene Roddenberry’s star field, Enterprise, WHOOSH GONE, warp-drive, opening image, you have to symbolize it and at the end of the novel say it in words, a quotable one-liner “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” That’s his theme, and the stars are his image (with the whoosh warp drive effect).

Creativity is far more abstract than Exploration, and much harder to symbolize.

The opening Image for my first (sold and published, not first written) novel in the Sime~Gen Series is:

Hugh Valleroy paced back and forth, heedless of the muddy water he was splashing onto the boots of the District Director of Federal Police.
——-end quote————–

Jean Lorrah, who joined me in creating the series with her novel, book 3, First Channel, reviewed House of Zeor, giving her review the title “Vampire In Muddy Boots” thus capturing the cognitive dissonance at the core essence of the Sime~Gen Series.

Hugh Valleroy is a creative artist frustrated at being trapped in a career as a translator for the Police. He doesn’t have tentacles, but in this opening scene, in the third paragraph, the guy with tentacles appears and changes Valleroy’s destiny by triggering his creativity and providing an outlet for it. And of course it is all because of a woman. (Yep, love triangle.)

Because Jean Lorrah understood House of Zeor, she became the first woman in a female-female collaborating team to get a full professorship on the strength of a science fiction novel (Yeah, this was long-long before the Conference on the Fantastic made speculative fiction respectable in academe.)

So, it takes practice to concoct an opening image that is simple enough to encapsulate in cold text yet complex enough to contain an entire series of novels, a universe in itself.

One exercise is to make a list of the books you remember, even though you read them years ago, then go look at the Opening Line or image, and the ending line, and the paragraph right exactly in the MIDDLE. Compare and find the theme.

Take Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel, SWORD OF ALDONES. Opening, I still remember (the original, not the rewrite published much later), “We were outstripping the night.” And the whole Darkover series is about racing away from a social and spiritual Darkness.

sword of aldones_cvr

Study your own favorite novels, the opening images, and extract from that image the underlying theme that connects everything. Most often, the writer herself has no clue what that theme really is. But to create a novel that can sell you must have an idea of the theme you want to be there, even if it is only a theory, about what your theme is. You have to make everything in the novel match that one singular theme.

Lots of novels are published that don’t have that coherence, but you will find just such a coherence in the stack of novels you remember ever so vividly, and in all the stuff that generates millions and billions of words of fanfic in a zilliion languages.

Thematic coherence is the signature of fanfic propagating fiction.

Such opening lines pop into writers’ heads at odd intervals for no reason at all. Once you start practicing creating opening images, they just keep coming. Write them down and keep a file — one or another will be that winner you are looking for.

Here’s one that makes a good example that came to me yesterday and I wrote it down, but have no idea what theme, story, plot or characters might go with it or even what genre it would be.

“OK, so how does he look in a wetsuit?”

See the visual?

The reader has to read the next paragraph – just has to – because a thousand questions are posed by that image.

So suppose it goes like this – this is the very first line under Chapter One:

——–just writing———

“OK, so how does he look in a wetsuit?”

“Scrumptious,” I answered. Wendy, our casting director, was leafing through headshots looking for the right leading man for the commercial I was to star in as a mermaid. “He’s just what you were looking for.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“He wears a green Speedo in competition, and his Butterfly is perfect.”

“He ever win?”

“Not much, but he looks marvelous.”

“George!” Wendy called striding away slapping the headshot against her thigh. “Get this guy down here to audition!”

——-end just writing———

See how much information can be conveyed without explaining much at all?

Write the last half of that first page yourself, and answer who the guy is, how “I” knows him, and how much he needs or wants the job, what product the commercial is for, and what happens as a CONSEQUENCE of the commercial being aired.

Create your opening images without exposition, just by engaging your reader’s creativity.

You can post your next 3 pages to this story as a comment on this blog.

If you find this difficult, read some of my blogs. Do this exercise the way artists doodle, anytime your mind and fingers pause. Soon you’ll have a flood of opening lines with no apparent story attached. Keep them!

– Jacqueline Lichtenberg

JL pic

You can find Jacqueline Lichtenberg online here:
Alien  Romances Blog:

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Rochelle Written by:

Writer. Dreamer. Lover of Life. Photographer.
I bring all of these elements to my work and share it with you.
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One Comment

  1. August 4, 2016

    There was a problem on the Wildside Press website “purchasing” free copies (they offer a lot of free copies you can’t get on Amazon). It seems to be solved now, but if you have an issue getting any of our books or freebies, let me know. is the list of free copies.

    Here is a link where you can get the first 13 volumes of Sime~Gen for a combined bargain price.

    Or just search

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