Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Opening Scenes: A Very Good Place to Start

The opening scene can make or break a book, and should always be chosen with great thought and care. (If the first draft opening is giving you too much trouble though, don't stress about it. As long as you have the perfect opening scene in place before submission!) 

I am a firm believer in the rule "In late, out early" (my "Rule #1"), especially in how it pertains to opening scenes. You want to begin your book either right as the actual story begins, right after, or smack in the middle of it. If you begin before the actual story, your reader will usually lose interest before they even get to the good part. Begin with the good part.

When I pick my opening scene, I normally choose from two options:

1. Action -- Always a great place to start because it pulls the reader in right from the get-go. But the catch is to then keep the reader caught up until the very end. If you slow for too long, the reader will become bored. Always be sure to keep the story moving.
2. Main Character Introduction -- If you are going open by introducing your character, be sure to put them in a situation that makes the reader curious (or if you're lucky, desperate) for more. An intro can be very dull if executed poorly, so be sure to pick an interesting situation to throw at your character. (Rule #2: ALWAYS keep it interesting.)
(Combining both 1 & 2 can be good, but the action can sometimes overshadow the character, so just be careful.)

Opening with Description: I tend to avoid opening with Description at all costs. In my own reading, every time I come across a large chunk of description beginning a story ("It was a dark and stormy night" let me describe it for you in great detail), I usually skip over it - or move on to another book. If I don't like this type of opening, I most certainly don't want to put off my own readers with it.

With Project ID, I chose #2. In my opening scene you discover EP's (my main character) living environment, some habits, a taste of her occupation, and how her mind works in a simple visit from a door-to-door salesman. The reader is moved from one curiosity to the next: Why has she only been asleep for two hours and twenty-three minutes? Why are there paperback novels littering the floor? Why in the world is she studying the encyclopedia like that? Unanswered questions will encourage the reader deeper into the story.

Whatever your opening scene, it has to be just like any other scene in your book: getting across as much relevant information as possible while moving the story right along. If it doesn't do both, then it probably shouldn't be there. My first scene leads EP on to her Division HQ, where she has a confrontation with her rival (an important character she has to work with later). Now riled, she goes straight to her Resident Agency, where we meet her partner - and from there her work begins. Everything should be connected, and each scene should flow right into the other. Anything extra that slows the flow should be cut.

So pick your opening scene well - the choice will make or break your novel. Begin late (with the good part) and never let the flow slow until the last sentence. 

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