Beginnings—why are they so !@#$%^&* difficult to write? I recently started a new manuscript, therefore the opening pages of books have been on my mind. So, it’s fitting that this series on the one thing we always screw up has come along. I have to admit, Bad Girlz of the World, I struggle with how and where to start a story. I cringe and hold my breath all the way through drafting an opening scene—every time. But it’s a subject I’ve also researched heavily, screwed up again and again, and have now (hopefully) learned. Here’s what I’ve discovered…
Start with the story’s inciting moment, not the character’s inciting moment. This was one of my earlier mistakes that led to Jenna Patrick telling me I didn’t need the first 3 chapters of my manuscript. (And I’m glad I listened, she was right.) All characters have a past, but the past is no place to start a book. Instead look to the plot of the story. What is the catalyst for your characters to interact? That moment is where the story really begins.
Open with action. Have you ever noticed that movies usually start with an action sequence? There’s a reason for that. We want to grab our reader’s attention so they become invested in the story, and gripping action is a great way to do that.
Limit the number of people in the opening scene. I made this mistake in the first draft of Desperately Seeking Suzanna and had to make people vanish during the editing process. You don’t want to instantly confuse your reader by dropping them into the middle of a crowd of characters, so keep the numbers down and introduce the characters gradually.
“Any good story is a before and after picture.” –Michael Hauge
Character, character, character. I recently attended a workshop by Michael Hauge where he touched on the subject of opening scenes. It was awesome! If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, do it! I learned so much, and here are a few tidbits of that knowledge. The opening scene should demonstrate who that character is at the beginning of the story and the opening lines are a snapshot of that time in their life. It’s a good idea to throw in a line somewhere in the first scene that shows the reader how screwed up the character’s life is even if they act like they’re happy with things. This will establish longing for the change that the story will bring.
I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m learning and that’s what matters. Right, Bad Girlz? Do you want to see a few examples of opening lines from my writing?
[Please endure the following shameless plug for my books. Thanks. 🙂 ]
Must Love Dukes:
As Devon paused to allow a carriage to pass, a heat spread across his back. Someone was following him.
Desperately Seeking Suzanna:
“Who are you supposed to be?” Holden asked, adjusting the animal skin draped over his shoulder as he attempted to settle further into the chair.
How to Lose a Lord in 10 Days or Less:
Andrew rounded a bend in the road and urged his mount into a small patch of woods. Damn the open terrain of the moors.
The Infamous Heir – Book 1 of the Spare Heirs Series (coming soon):
Another punch skimmed past Ethan’s ear. The rush of air and cheers of the other men closed in on him as the blow sailed by. He put his weight behind his next swing, his knuckles colliding with his opponent’s jaw. He watched as the man toppled to the floor with an echoing thud, and he waited.
What are the opening lines of your current manuscript? Post them in the comments so we can chat about them!