Opening Scenes in Fiction


it begins with a spark, as most things do. you have an idea for a story and you want to write but you don’t know how to start.

FIRST LET’S LOOK AT THE PURPOSE OF THE BEGINNING:

The opening of any work of fiction is the part that catches people’s attention. Many people will stop reading if they don’t like the first scene or (like me) may read a few more pages to see if it picks up. Some readers forgive poor starts if the rest of the story is compelling, others may be less forgiving.

Idea Catalyst Kit

Image by Martin Whitmore via Flickr

The first scene is the introduction of your story. It’s intention is to draw the reader in and whet their interest. Personally I think it’s more than that, it’s the scene which establishes a relationship between the writer and reader. More often than not, the opening scenes will set the tone for the whole novel.

So let’s get an example story to work with first:

Crime Scene

Image by freefotouk via Flickr

Imagine you‘re writing a story. It’s about about a woman known as D.L who was working in a bank until it was held up by bank robbers. After a brush with death she decided to follow her dream of buying her own farm and moved to a remote valley. The novel is about something happening that interrupts her new peaceful life.

types of beginnings:

  • THE HISTORY LESSON –

E.g. She’d lived in Michigan all her life until five years ago she’d been working in a bank when…

Silvestre Herrera

Image by gwilmore via Flickr

Telling much of the character’s situation and back story before any action. I think of this as the `Somewhere in a galaxy, far, far away’ or the `Once upon a time’ opening. It’s not usually advisable to put a large amount of back story in the opening as it dramatically slows down the pace but it can work if done well.

The rolling hills of the valley were a beautiful sight. A pickup truck travelled along the beaten path carrying several chicken coops.

Stormtroopers 365: Behind the scenes...

Image by Stéfan via Flickr

This is usually the description scene. Slow but steady, it works to set the scene and can include dialogue and/or action. This can include significant story events or just be create a sense of setting within your story. Especially useful if you’re trying to create a sense of nostalgia or slow the pace.

Benjamin loaded the chicken feed in the back of D.L’s pickup truck. He was the owner of the local store, an aging man with the strength of someone half his age.

People Moving

Image by tryingmyhardest via Flickr

This is where you start with a scene showing what the main character‘s normal life is like. This means that when the story progresses we are able to see the changes. This is used a lot in films and television shows to introduce the main character to the audience.

The pickup truck ground to a halt. “Turn back,” said the man. “It’s not safe. Turn back!” D.L didn’t recognize him but behind him she could see smoke rising from the valley.

Berlin in motion

Image by J-Cornelius via Flickr

Starts in the middle of the action to create suspense. Quicker, more interesting and can make for a great opening. This can be done with description, action or dialogue and is often a preferred option, especially for novels and stories with a faster pace. The only danger is if the reader doesn’t understand what’s going on or why they should care. Be careful to balance this and use the following scenes for clarity.

  •  DIALOGUE

“It’s not safe!” “Why? What’s going on?” D.L turned off the engine getting out of the car.

Speech Bubble

Image via Wikipedia

Effective opening for creating curiosity. We don’t know why it’s not safe or any of D.K’s history yet so the reader’s imagination starts moving ahead and wondering what’s going on. Dialogue is rarely used alone as a beginning scene and usually includes one of the other BEGINNING TYPES, such as action and description. Again, remember that the reader has to be able to follow it and understand what’s happening.

D.L stumbled around the ruins of her farm, trying to find her shotgun in the rubble. They weren’t going to get her without a fight. She wouldn’t let the bad guys win, not this time!

Old Clocks

Image by servus via Flickr

This starts at/or near the end of the story and then uses flashbacks to tell the rest of it. This can be hard to pull off but when done well can be very interesting and creates more of a non-linear story or mystery. Remember, there are no rules to say that the beginning has to start at the beginning. It can start in the middle, in the end or really anywhere in the timeline that you deem suitable. Just make sure people can understand it!

  • FIRST-PERSON EXAMPLE

I turned off the engine and got out of the pickup truck.
” Turn back. It’s not safe!”

“Why?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”

Of course what kind of story you’re writing and the perspective you’re writing from will affect the opening. A first-person story may start with one of the previous beginning types as well but will be written from the first-person perspective.

Ribbons

Image by Miss Millificent via Flickr

So there you have it. There are several ways to start a story and all of them set a different tone and speed. Which you choose is up to you but you can tell the same story in several different ways and you can even start anywhere in the timeline. Where you do will undoubtedly affect how the reader perceives your character and the story.

So on that note I’ll leave you with an opening line from a very interesting book.

Most people would probably call me a ghost.

– from `Remember Me’ by Christopher Pike.

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One thought on “Opening Scenes in Fiction

  1. Pingback: Where shall we begin? | Fangirling Through Fiction

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