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Get Set: Writing Your Opening Scene(s) #ReadySetWrite

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Writing Your Opening  Scene(s) | KayeDacus.comThe first five pages. Hooking the reader. Crafting a killer opening. Writing a gripping first chapter.

If there’s a book about the writing craft, there’s likely going to be a chapter—or a whole section—on the importance of a strong opening line/scene/chapter. Actually, there are entire books focused on just writing the openings (yet none that I’ve found that focus on writing a killer ending). Rather than repeat everything that’s already been written about crafting the “perfect” opening scene, let’s discuss what it means to sit down and write an opening scene—or a dozen—for the book you’ve been getting Ready and Set to Write.

Don’t Lock Yourself into Your First Opening Scene/Chapter

Like everything else in what you’re about to write, the first scene/chapter you’re about to sit down and put into words is a first draft—it’s open for revision, rewriting, or cutting along with everything else you’re about to put down on paper.

You may have a scene in mind that you feel is the perfect opening scene for your book. I’ve had several come to me, almost fully formed, which pretty much wrote themselves.

And those were the opening scenes I either ended up heavily revising or cutting altogether. (Such as this, which was the original opening chapter of Ransome’s Honor, which got cut in order to get to the plot of the story—the scene where William and Julia come face to face for the first time in twelve years—much sooner.) After rewriting the opening of what would become Stand-In Groom multiple times before figuring out the main plot element and completing the first draft—which necessitated another complete overhaul of the first third of the manuscript—and after submitting what I thought was the final version of the story for approval as my master’s thesis, when it came time to choose a reading for my oral defense, in re-reading the opening for probably the five hundredth time, I realized how slow and boring it was—and that I’d introduced a named character who had absolutely nothing to do with the story and who disappeared after that scene. So . . . snip, snip.

TL;dr version: Don’t fall so helplessly in love with the first opening scene you write (or the tenth revision of it) that you aren’t willing to see its flaws and either revise it or mercilessly chop it off.

Write More Than One Opening Scene

A great way to keep from falling into the “precious baby” mindset with your “perfect” opening scene is to write more than one. If you have more than one viewpoint character, this is easier than if you only have one. And if you have more than two viewpoint characters, it’s that much better. Write an opening scene from each viewpoint character’s POV. Give each character a setup and an inciting incident. It may be the same inciting incident for all of your characters (and in a romance novel, it’s when the heroine and hero meet, so it’s the same scene but from each viewpoint). If you have multiple plotlines in your story, you may have a couple of different inciting incidents, and this exercise will help you figure out which is the primary/dominant plotline, which will help you hone in on which opening scene may work best for your story.

Not sure what happens to lead up to the inciting incident? Start by just writing a couple of scenes about your main character(s). What’s a day in the life like? What needs to happen to your character in order to get him/her involved in the plot of the story? Experiment. Play around.

And if all else fails, send your character to the grocery store. You never know whom he/she might run into there!

Don’t Get It “Perfect”; Just Get It Written

It’s almost 99 percent certain that no matter how much you obsess over writing the “perfect” opening, by the time you get to The End, you’re going to need to either change, rewrite, or scrap your opening scene. By giving yourself permission just to get started and get something written so that you can actually get your entire draft completed, you’re less likely to give up because you feel like you’ll never be able to get it right.

Allow yourself to start in narrative. Or start with a scene description. Open with dialogue. Open with your character going through his/her daily routine. (Knowing that you’re going to be revising/rewriting these scenes in your second draft.)

Whatever you do, just get SOMETHING written. Start writing. Go back to what we discussed last week about allowing yourself to be in draft writing mode. At this point, it isn’t important to get it right, just to get it written.

Not Sure Where to Start Your Scene? Start in the Middle

Because it’s been drilled into our heads so often to open with a hook, the draw the reader in right from the first line, we tend to obsess over those opening words—are they active enough? do they pack a punch? are they memorable?

Who cares! This is just your first draft. That kind of stuff isn’t important—getting your draft written is the focus here. The best way to make sure you don’t fall into the never-ending cycle of “making it perfect” and not moving on from the first chapter into the most important part of your book—everything else—is to start writing in the middle of a scene. And the easiest way to do that is to open with either action or dialogue. Your character is doing something or saying something on the way to the inciting incident. Skip the setup beat. You can come back and fill that part in when you’re in the revision process.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if your opening doesn’t make sense to anyone but you—that’s okay, you’re the only one who’s going to be reading the first draft. So if you aren’t quite sure where/how your story starts, or if you’re having trouble getting started because of the anxiety of not being sure of exactly the right opening line to use, forget about it. Just jump into the middle of a scene and start writing. It doesn’t even have to be an opening scene. It can be a scene that happens halfway through the book.

While writing chronologically is recommended, not everyone can do that—or maybe writing a scene that happens in the middle of the book will give you the impetus and ideas you need in order to figure out what the opening scene needs to be in order to set up the middle scene you’ve already written.

Find Your Beginning in The End

The best way to figure out the perfect opening scene for your story is to finish your first draft before you even start worrying about that.

Yes, what you write in your opening scene(s) sets up what follows, but there’s nothing that says you have to continue in that line of writing, continue with that tone, or even keep that character. That’s what the revision process is for. But there’s no point in getting so caught up in crafting your story’s opening if it’s keeping you from writing your story. Yes, you want a strong opening; however, it’s the story as a whole—and, most importantly, the strength of your ending—that will keep readers coming back wanting more.

And on that note, I’ll leave you with a reminder of the series in which I discuss writing beginnings and endings in depth:

There and Back Again: Finding Your Beginning in “The End”
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Is Writing the Perfect First Line Really a Big Deal?
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Are You a Trustworthy Writer?
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Dreaming of Writing a Perfect Opening
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: The Importance of Finishing Your First Draft
Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Ending Your Beginning

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