Four Things Your Opening Scene Has to Do

Last week, I read an excellent post by Jane Friedman, 5 Common Story Openings to Avoid.  As a new writer, I attempted two of them and I’ve seen at least two more when reading contest entries. Her list of bad beginnings includes opening with the character getting out of bed, with the character sitting and thinking, as the character travels, with the character dreaming, or with the character in the midst of a crisis.

As you work to create your opening scene, keep in mind the four things that this scene needs to do.

Introduce your character.  Before we can care, when need to get to know this character.  What do they love? What kind of person are they?  How do they interact with other people?  Show us what matters before you shake things up.

Introduce your setting.  If you are writing fantasy or science fiction, you aren’t going to have time to do all of your world building in the opening scene, but set the scene.  Are we in a lunar station?  On a world full of dragons?  In a dark, dusty mansion?

Create a contract with your reader.  In the opening scene, you tell your reader what type of story this is going to be.  A humorous scene promises humor throughout.  A world of dragons creates an expectation for magic.

Hook your readers.  Last but not least, the opening scene has got to hook your reader.  Do this by getting their attention and making them want to find out what is happening in this story.

It may sound like a lot to get done in rather short order, and it is.  But it is essential in order to keep the reader reading.  It will probably take you several tries to get it write . . . I mean right.



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