I recently came across a very fun article from the AV Club, which talked about how any opening in a story could be improved by replacing the second (or in some cases, the third) line with the phrase “And then the murders began.” This idea was formulated by author Marc Laidlaw, which has since become known as Laidlaw’s Rule, and is based on some of the advice of author Elmore Leonard, who said you should start your stories with more action-based openings rather than more quiet stuff like describing the weather or doing some sort of backstory.
As you can imagine, Laidlaw’s Rule can make for a rather fun parlor game. I shared the AV Club article in one of my writing groups on Facebook, and we had a ball with this. Here’s my contribution to the game:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And then the murders began.
Charles Dickens has never been less boring.
And you find that this works with almost any story. Harry Potter, for example:
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number 4, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. And then the murders began.
Just as JK Rowling intended it, I’m sure. How about Alice in Wonderland?
Alice was beginning to get tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do. And then the murders began.
Well, in this LSD-inspired story, anything’s possible. What about Stephen King?
The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain. And then the murders began.
That’s Stephen King’s IT in a nutshell. New movie out September 8th! Check out the trailer that’ll be coming out some time tomorrow. Let’s see, what else? Oh, I know! How about Wuthering Heights?
1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. And then the murders began.
It’s already improved greatly. And even works on non-fiction works and speeches. For example, the Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. And then the murders began.
America in a nutshell, everybody! Our nation is dangerous to your health.
How about my work? Let’s try Reborn City:
Zahara and her family had decided to eat out at a restaurant in North Reborn that served kosher meat, the closest they could get to halāl. And then the murders began.
Well, there are a few murders in this book (spoilers!). What about Video Rage?
The sunbaked concrete and metal in the hundred-plus degree heat, the many cars and trucks reflected light off their chrome bodies like blinding beasts zooming down the highway. And then the murders began.
Ooh, chilling! How about Snake?
Paul Sanonia had been touched by a nightmare, an unbelievable disaster that had manifested in reality where it shouldn’t belong. And then the murders began.
This novel in a nutshell (more spoilers!).
And the best part is, Laidlaw’s Rule works with pretty much any story. Usually it works best with third-person omniscient narrators, though other narrating styles can work. Take a look at To Kill a Mockingbird:
When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. And then the murders began.
Jeez, Atticus Finch’s job just got a lot tougher. I think he’s going to have to play detective as well as defense lawyer and dad.
Yeah, Laidlaw’s Rule is a lot of fun. But it also could make for a fun writing exercise. How many stories have actually begun with “And then the murders began” as the second sentence? As a lot of these kinds of stories like a bit of mystery before you discover a body or two, I’d say not many. So it would be fun to start a story this way. Just come up with a random set up for the first sentence, do “And then the murders began” for the second, and see where it goes from there. We could call it the Laidlaw Exercise (coming to a high school or university writing class near you!). And if I wasn’t neck-deep in finishing a sci-fi trilogy, I might try this! God knows I could tell more than a few stories starting out this way.
Maybe I will when I have a bit of free time. Who knows? I might end up writing something totally awesome.
But what do you think of the Laidlaw Rule? And do you have any contributions you’d like to add? Author friends, I want to hear what your books sounds like when given the Laidlaw treatment! Let’s discuss in the comments below.
That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have another post out later this week, so keep an eye out for it. Until next time!
…And then the murders began.