Day 16 of PREPtober

Today we’re going to talk about all of the elements that should go into a winning Opening Scene that readers, agents and editors will love.


Hi everyone, and welcome to day 16 of PREPtober where we are going to be drafting our opening scenes, or opening chapter, or however many words you are able to make it through today. Now there are three big advantages to doing this now, instead of waiting until November 1st. The first is obvious, I think you will have a head start for NaNo-rhymo, and I know what you’re saying, “But that’s kind of cheating.” Maybe. But I would say it’s so hard to stare at a blank page, it is much easier, one, to have an outline and know which direction you’re going. And two, to have a few pages that you can refer to so you can get into the right mindset, you know the tone, you know the voice, the theme. It really helps you to get going for those first few days so you can build up some steam and momentum, without having any stumbling blocks.

The second thing is, I think it’s going to tell you a lot about yourself, and your writing style, and what you’re thinking for this novel. So that when we start planing out our plot point, and pinpoints, and everything else later on, you’re going to have some sort of framework of where you want this character to start. It’s not say that this is going to be written in stone, but at least it gives you sort of a starting block on which to build upon. Or you know that you need to tear this block down because it is not at all the direction that you want your story to go in.

With that in mind, let’s talk about my top ten rules for writing openings, because they are so important. Sometimes especially, I think you guys know this, if you want to be traditionally published, these may be the only few pages that an agent or editor will read. That’s why they are so critical to the book sale of your novel, or whether or not you can get an agent.

The first one is to make sure you introduce your main character. And I know what you’re thinking, maybe you have a really great, quirky secondary character that you’d like to ease your reader’s into the story. But for sure, whether it is conscious or subconscious, your reader is expecting to learn about the start of the book and they want to be introduced to them right away. If you are not going to do that, something will feel a little off to them with the rest of the story, or they might feel duped because they will be so emotionally invested in that first character that they meet, they will be a little sad that that is not the star of your story.

The second thing is, you need to induce sympathy for that character. Even if you are trying to show that character doing something amazing and great, they should be humble about it. They should have something that we can all admire and look up to, but not resent. There’s a ton of different ways, and we’re not going to talk about them today, but there are many different ways you can induce sympathy for your main character.

The third thing is, you want to set the tone of the book. We talked about this a little before, and you know, if it is fun and light-hearted, like a chick-lit novel, then make sure that first chapter sounds just like that. If it is dark and foretelling, and suspenseful like a thriller novel, make sure that it’s very serious in its tone. You want to not do, I guess what I call, not introducing the main character in the first chapter, you don’t want to do a bait and switch with your reader. You want to make sure when they read that first chapter, they know exactly what they’re getting into. Whether it is a dark comedy, or whether it is a straight up laugh out loud kind of comedy, make sure you set that tone right there in that first opening scene.

The fourth thing is that you want to foreshadow the theme of the book. Whether it is about love lost, or it is accepting people for who they are, or that not to judge a book by its cover sort of theme. Either way, you don’t have to hit people over the head with it, but at least sort of hint at it a tiny bit within that opening scene of your book.

The fifth thing is, you want to give people who, what, where, when, right. So you want to tell them basically the setting, is this the 1600’s, is this present day, is this back in the 90’s because there’s no cell phone. Am I in Boston? Am I in Paris? Am I on a plane en route to Japan? Give them, ground the reader into where they are located, and where the story is happening, both time and space.

The sixth thing is, you want to introduce your antagonist. Now you don’t want to be overbearing with that. Again, the hero should be the first person you introduce, but your hero is going to have to interact with somebody, and it’s a good idea to introduce that antagonist, which may or may not be your villain. The antagonist could be society, we talked about this before. It could be man versus himself. Man versus Man. Man versus nature. You know there are different antagonists that may or may not be the villain of your story.

The seventh thing is you want to introduce conflict. So you should have a mini-plot for that opening scene. Obviously it is not the main plot for your book, but there should be some sort of conflict going on in that opening scene, so that we are interested in your main character. It shouldn’t just be them waking up, brushing their teeth, doing some laundry, washing their dishes. That is not what makes up a book. Maybe that might be interesting for your YouTube lifestyle channel on your vlog, but definitely not the opening scene of your book.

The eighth thing is that you want to make sure you give your character a mini-goal for that opening scene. We want to see people trying, our characters trying to achieve something, to do something, to overcome something. They need to be given a goal, a task, and then some obstacles, which are our conflict.

The ninth and tenth thing are going to be again, I think what helps you to set the rest of the parameters for your book, and that is the tone and, or not the tone, sorry, did I already say that, the tense. So whether that is past tense, or present tense, and the POV. So what point of view, are you telling this in first person, are you telling it in third person, are you in an omniscient voice, or are you doing a second person where you are talking directly to the reader because you are writing a non-fiction book, or you are trying to do a spoof like Deadpool. Deadpool does this where he breaks away from the movie basically, and just talks directly to the audience, in the film, like a YouTube video, like I’m doing to you right now. That is not very common, but again, I don’t want to ever say that you must follow all the rules. But it’s good to know the rules before you break them.

Now I know a lot of you are romance writers, and typically in romance, what happens is that everything is set past tense and there is alternating POVs between the female and the male, so they sort of trade places and go back and forth, and that is very common. Now I also write chick-lit and using first-person, past tense, is very popular for that. You should also know that Young Adult quite frequently, or middle grade novels have first-person, present tense. Now they’ve done studies, I don’t know who they are, but I know I’ve read them somewhere, so don’t quote me, but I do know that older readers tend to enjoy past tense more than present tense. That’s because it typically just hasn’t been used, and it’s less for your brain to think about if it’s in past tense. Everybody sort of understands that, they expect that, just like meeting your hero in the first opening scene, and nobody will give it a second thought.

Now I would argue if you really want to write your book in present tense, make sure that your competitors, and that the industry, that something that readers who are looking for books in your genre or sub-genre will be comfortable with. I’m not saying again, that you have to follow this rule, but if you’re not sure, just go to your bookshelf, or to your Kindle, and I would make a chart. In this chart I would put down the tense, the POV, and who is the main character right. So is this always written from just the hero? Is there alternating characters? And I would very careful, and we talked about this, about introducing the main character and the antagonist.

The last piece of advice I have for you, is not to introduce too many characters. No matter how amazing or awesome they are, it is overwhelming for your reader to meet more than one person at once. I know it sounds very efficient, but it is not. I’m not sure if anyone read the book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and it introduces 16 girls that are reading Lolita in Tehran. I was so overwhelmed that I talked to, I was in a reading circle, and everyone was just overwhelmed with the number of characters and the majority of people just stopped reading the book because it was so confusing and it was too many people to keep in your head.

If you’ve been watching TV, Inhumans, which is a Marvel franchise has really failed and nobody is interested in Inhumans despite the fact that people love Marvel. And the reason, I believe that Inhumans failed, well there’s many, but is because there are too many storylines to follow. You can’t be emotionally invested in so many people. It’s confusing. There’s too much going on.

On the flip side, if you’ve noticed, all of the Marvel movies, even The Avengers, even when they come together, they each had their own movie to start. We had Iron Man. We had Thor. We have Black Cat, Black Panther coming up. We have Captain America. Even then, there’s always sort of a main character, and it’s usually Iron Man, that is the lead for Avengers. When we had the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Skye, also known as Daisy, was also sort of the main lead for the whole story. Even though there’s a huge cast of people, and we did get to know them. You still should have one lead that your readers can really get invested in and follow along in your story while they’re interacting with other characters.

I hope that was helpful, so go ahead, and I didn’t even put a specific amount on this. Just freeform write as much as you can. Whether it is your first chapter, your first scene, your first few chapters. Just kind of get going and see where you end up. All right, I hope that was helpful. I know today was much longer than normal. All right, I will see you guys tomorrow for day 17, when we start talking about plot and I will be walking you through a movie. If you were looking for some fun homework for tonight, you might want to watch Die Hard. All right, I’ll see you tomorrow.

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