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Dos and donts for the opening scene?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Writer’s_Magic, Apr 8, 2018.

  1. What should I avoid when I write my opening scene? I mean is it really a sin when I describe the weather, setting or let a character wake up? Even the latter can you find in a bestseller: The Hunger Games. But in your opinion, what’s are do and don’ts for the opening scene?
  2. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

    Don't info dump. Get to the story right away.

    Typically when inexperienced writers start with the weather, the setting, or the character waking up, they info dump. That's why most editor will immediately reject a ms if it does this. Instead, start with the character doing or experiencing something unusual; something that will capture the reader's attention.
    Rkcapps likes this.
  3. Yora

    Yora Maester

    Any story should very quickly get to the point where the audience has a good understanding of what kind of story is lying ahead. In the most extreme case you have the James Bond opening scenes that don't bother with the plot at all and just show some cool stuff of the same type that come up again many times through the rest of the movie. The opening scene does not need to do that, but it should give clear hints of what the overall tone and content of the work will be.
    FifthView and goldhawk like this.
  4. YoraYora But the first page decides if the reader continue his/her thing.
  5. Yora

    Yora Maester

    Yes, that's why you should give as good an impression of the overall story as you can.
  6. YoraYora Do you have a good example?
  7. Yora

    Yora Maester

    I am working on a story that mostly takes place in ancient ruins in the forest. So the opening scene should either take place in forest ruins or contain dialog about planning to go to forest ruins. If there is going to be a lot of action that is central to the story, then the opening scene should either contain action of that type, or show that the characters are trained and equipped for combat, which indicates that they are expecting fight scenes to happen during their adventures. If the story is about fire magic, the opening scene should either show that fire magic or have dialog about what the fire magic can do, which hints at what magic scenes the readers can expect to see later in the story. Or a story about prophecies should start with a scene about seers or dialog about prophecies.

    A lot of works don't do that, going for a more gradual and "natural" introduction into the real focus matter of the work, and start with normal people doing normal things until after some time the special elements of the story are introduced. But I think that this is a mistake and that writers should make the audience a promise of what is waiting for them ahead as soon as possible. Movies and videogames often do just that with trailers to get audiences interested in their works. Books don't have such a thing and since books are generally cheap, lots of readers will just pick up something and start reading, deciding whether they actually want to read the whole thing based on how much they liked the first pages. You really don't want anyone to stop reading your book because they think it's going to be boring or a kind of story that doesn't interest them, especially when you have more books that are similar to it. So I completely advocate to be as upfront about what is going to be in the story as you can, right from the start.

    Don't try to surprise readers with a story that turns out to be something very different from what the first chapters made they think was going to lie ahead. People who liked the opening would have wanted more story just like that and will be disappointed that they actually get something else. People who would have liked the middle and end parts of the story but don't like the type of story that is in the beginning will have stopped reading before they get to the part where it becomes a book they would enjoy.

    You never know how far into the book people will read before they decide whether they want to read the whole thing or stop. So get them to understand what kind of things the book will be dealing with as early as possible. At best right in the opening scene.
    Doing that also allows you to give out the opening scene or chapter as a free sample that people can read in a few minute and then decide if they want to buy the book. Similar to a movie trailer.
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Weather openings can work, anything can work... so the answer is open with whatever works. Of course what works for one person doesn’t work for another, heh heh. I heard a statistic a while back on a romance writer who’s sold more books than any person should ever reasonably expect to sell, and she opens with weather alot.

    Then I read a sci-fi a week or so ago for the hell of it... it was terrible, but I read it anyhow because bad writing can teach as much as good. The opening is wham-bam action with betrayal, but it’s absolutely flat because I had zero investment in the characters betraying and being betrayed, shooting and being shot at. Yup, it fit the rest of the book, but that wasn’t a good thing, LOL.
    Rkcapps and Xitra_Blud like this.
  9. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

    Weather openings can work, if you're an established writer. As I said, most editors will read only the first sentence and discard the work. After all, they get hundreds of manuscripts; their selection criteria can be very selective. Do yourself a favour and avoid things that will trigger they (overly) sensitive rejection.
    Rkcapps and Chessie2 like this.
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I think the most important thing to keep in mind is this:

    Every page, every scene, should be wholly intoxicating for the reader.


    Basically, the opening doesn't exist merely for the purposes of getting to the good stuff later. Nope. The opening needs to be just as well-considered, well-written, rich, entertaining, and captivating as all those special darlings you plan to write later in the book.

    ^So this statement has the do's and don'ts kinda implied. As for specifics, you can accomplish what you need to accomplish in many ways.
    Yora and goldhawk like this.
  11. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    I think the only *do* is to engage the reader. Depending on what you're writing, this is going to look/be different from book to book, genre to genre, audience to audience. I mostly write romance so my first chapter is going to need different things than yours (if you're writing a non-romance fantasy). The first chapter for me needs to set the stage for the main heroes to meet either later in that chapter or at the beginning of the second chapter. This means I have around 2-3k words to give the reader everything: character, problem, flaw, setting, plot from a single perspective. It needs to be the strongest perspective, too, or the character that I am most in tune with when I start writing.

    So, for you, this is going to look different but the point is to also consider viewing your first chapter in mechanical terms: what is it that you need in there in order to set up the next chapter/the story? First chapters introduce the reader to everything all at once so by default they not only must be interesting and engaging but have lots of information. If you can practice writing narrative that adds information in layers and starts closer to the story (meaning, close to the hero's call to adventure) then you'll have two techniques that will help your openings go smoother.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2018
    Rkcapps and Demesnedenoir like this.
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Writer’s_MagicWriter’s_Magic have you written an opening scene yet? If so, maybe post it in the Showcase.

    It's not at all a matter of do this, don't do that. It's a matter of doing it well, whatever you do. There's no such thing as original, no such thing as violating a rule. There is only writing well and writing badly.
    Rkcapps and Xitra_Blud like this.

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