Skip to main content

Hello writers. For some reason I've been looking at opening scenes a lot lately. I tend to write them last... after the manuscript has already been subdrafted, drafted, redrafted, revised, rewritten, rethought, replaced... shown to beta readers, alpha readers, omega readers, possibly even an editor or two... it's only after I know where the story's really going that I feel confident in writing an opening scene for it.

Reason being, of course, that the opening scene has to serve as some sort of guide to where the story's going.

What you don't want is a kitchen sink opening scene. You don't want the scene to serve as an index to every single thing that's going to happen in the story. You don't want this:

Suns exploded in Froop's head. Freddie was absolutely right... he should have listened to Freddie, but how could you, reasonably, when everything that came out of the man's mouth was just one long whine, and in a long-dead language at that? And the way he was always going on about Eulalia, like that was any of his business... Froop opened his eyes, blinked at the harsh light, and read the headlines:

Enormous factory full of underpaid workers explodes somewhere far away.

Reality TV star slightly bruised in freak bagel accident.

Why today? Froop wondered. Why him? Why now? Why Cleveland? Why Beethoven's Ninth?

It was all too much to ponder. The light ran zigzags up the wall. He staggered to the phone and called Barney.

"Tell me about Dante," he pleaded. "And quickly."

The problem with this opening is the writer knows what all these characters and plot points are doing in the scene, but no one else does. Suns are exploding-- does Froop have a hangover, or is he a galaxy? Or did Freddie warn Froop that Eulalia was going to bang him upside the head with something heavy? Which of the two headlines matters, or matter? (To CNN, obviously, it would be the latter. But to the story?) Or are the headlines just there to show us that Froop is literate? Is Froop the manufacturer of the guilty freak bagel, source of all his troubles? What does Cleveland have to do with anything?

The reader doesn't know, and doesn't care. Rather than try to wade through the above, s/he'll just put the book down and read something else.

Keep It Simple, Scribe. Opening scenes should not only contain a limited number of main characters; they should also contain a limited number of plot points. It should be clear what's going on. There can be a (as in "one") mystery, but it should be the kind that makes the reader turn the page rather than the kind that makes the reader put the book down.

The advantage of waiting till you know the story very well before you try to write an opening is, of course, that you know exactly which characters and what mystery to feature. But for the sake of tonight's challenge, imagine that you've already written the story.

From the passage above, choose just two or three elements. Discard the rest. Rewrite the opening so that it gives the reader some sense of what's actually going on.
Write On! will be a regular weekly diary (Thurs 8 pm ET) until it isn't.
Before signing a contract with any agent or publisher, please be sure to check them out on Preditors and Editors,
Absolute Write and/or
Writer Beware.
EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site