Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Dozen Ways to Create an Opening Scene

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We’ve all heard readers must be caught up in your novel from the very first page if you wish them to finish this book and purchase your next. But how does one go about creating that initial burst of excitement?

There is any number of options open to us as authors, but here’s your list of a dozen that’ll work well, if crafted correctly. (Ah, the ever-present caveat!) See if any of these will work for you.

1. The proverbial Great Line. I once read and still remember this one. “When I was little, I would think of ways to kill my daddy.” How’s that for grabbing the imagination. To develop this Great Line, compress your novel’s major conflict into a single sentence, then polish.

2. Have the bad guy show up early and in a big way. Your opening might be something like, “The assassins bullet…”

3. The likeable hero can be introduced right away, but be certain to include his worthy goal. Think along the line of, “His mother understood early in Johnnie’s life he would need unique attention.”

4. Introduce humor in the opening paragraph. Make sure it fits your audience. Toilet humor might work in VYA, (Very Young Adult), but the church elders will probably, uh, “pass.”

5. Introduce a feeling of danger right away. “…he saw men on horseback, riding hard, their horses kicking up a swirl behind them.”

6. Write a scene that’s easy on the senses in a conversational tone. Make it natural but lyrical. Paint a picture with which your audience will identify. “The landscape looked as if an artist had brushed his fondest vision of nature on his canvas.”

7. Introduce an ominous foreshadowing. “Carrion birds floated in a languid circle off to the south. Something was about to die.”

8. Begin with formidable obstacles your hero must face and overcome. “Exhausted, he crested what he thought was his final obstacle but saw a snowcapped mountain range still to his fore.” (Hey, I’m working on the fly here, cut me some slack, huh?) They need not be physical barriers, of course, but you get the idea.

9. Use immediate action. Stuff blowing up is always fun, but it can just as readily be an argument, a personal conflict or even one having to face humility. Just make is pop right away.

10. Open with high level of tension. Use a heavy dose of emotion mixed with high drama. Think of the last argument you had before you demanded a divorce. That’ll get ‘em worked up.

11. A clear representation of an appealing setting might work for you. Consider your “safe place” in all its glory and invite your reader to join you.

12. An effective joining of humor and tension. “When the bullet ripped into his flesh, he knew the day was not going well.” Trite, I know, but use that as your example and get off my back.

So there ya go. A dozen easy openings to hook your reader and sell more books. Good luck.

So long for now and may all your books be best-sellers.



  1. Interesting post, thanks. I have read through my opener again and I read your advice, I am fairly pleased with what I have written. I think I have covered your tips, it was refreshing not to have to pull my hair out and start again. My time spent reading other author blogs and twittering is paying off.
    Glynis @ http://www.glynissmy.com

  2. I am so glad to be a small part of your success. The Internet has proven an invaluabel source for improving our skills, hasn't it?