The Process: The First Scene

First impressions are important, not just at UnWrecked Press, but in every aspect of life. You want to make a good impression on your boss, the company you are interning for (wink, wink), and your readers. Here is intern Jessica Brooks to describe the importance of opening scenes:

Arguably, the most important part of your story is the first scene. This is the scene that could “make it or break it” for your reader. If this scene is boring, it’s unlikely that the reader will continue reading. Most people will not “stick it out” and wait for the story to get interesting, unless they are being forced to (I’m looking at you, public schools that force students to read boring books).

The first scene needs to grab the reader’s attention. This scene will make the reader want to know what is happening and what will happen. An opening scene can often be a fight or conflict scene of some sort. A scene with a lot of action will make the reader want to know the context. Who is fighting with who? Why are they fighting?

Another interesting way to start the story is with dialogue. This is where you can begin to show the personality of your characters and their relationships. Between dialogue, you can give meaningful descriptions of characters as well as the setting that doesn’t distract the reader too much from the dialogue. It is still important that the dialogue is interesting. It doesn’t have to dive right into the main plot, but it could show certain (maybe important) aspects of a character, maybe even some backstory. You could set the tone of a character here by letting them start with a joke and another character play along or not be interested in the other’s antics.

Now, I’ll tell you about an opening scene that I have read too many times that gets more boring every time I encounter it. For some reason, new authors have taken a liking to opening their stories with their main character starting their morning routine and looking in a mirror (or some reflective surface) and the character describes what they see. For example:

“I wake up, go to the bathroom, and look in the mirror. Staring back at me is a girl with curly, brown hair that she inherited from her mother. Her emerald eyes glow in the fluorescent lighting and stand out against her pale skin. She is short, 5’1, to be exact. She wears an old t-shirt as a nightgown and pair of pajama bottoms. She picks up her toothbrush and gets ready to begin her day.”

I just wrote that and it’s pretty boring. Some authors spice it up by nonchalantly adding that the character has wings or some other extraordinary feature. While this can be unexpected (unless the reader knows that this character isn’t human from the get-go), it doesn’t make up for the fact that this kind of opening is overdone and, honestly, kind of lazy.

Your opening scene doesn’t have to be memorable, but it needs to be creative and unique. If this scene doesn’t hook your reader, they most likely won’t continue reading to the next scene. So be creative, have fun, and remember that you can always rewrite the opening scene to make it fit your story.



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