Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Great Beginnings Part 1

I’ve been talking a lot about poor beginnings for your novel. What makes a fantastic opening? Let’s take a look at a few options:

Dialogue: This type of beginning makes for immediacy and forces the reader to wonder who’s talking and why. Unless this is your prologue, the main character should be a part of the conversation.

Suspense: This raises questions and peaks the reader’s curiosity. An example of this is to show the death of a character. Readers want to understand why and how the death occurred, and what does the death have to do with the rest of the story. The reader won’t necessarily care that this character’s dead. Don’t worry. That’s not the point of the death or it shouldn’t be. If it is, then you’re starting at the wrong place. The death scene, whether the reader witnesses the death or is there when characters discover the body, is somehow important to the story itself. Maybe it’s the beginning of a mystery. Maybe it’s the first of many depressing events that will affect the protagonist. Whatever the case, there must be a reason for the death. This isn’t to say the only way to create suspense in an opening scene is to start with a death. I simply used that as an example since I write those kinds of stories. In reality, a suspenseful beginning can be anything that causes the reader to not only wonder about something, but creates a need for the reader to find the answers to their questions. And that means reading on.

Setting: If a setting is important to your story, like in historicals or world building novels, then this can be a great way to start. The setting details can grab a reader’s attention, bringing them right into this “other world”. However, the trick to using this opening properly is that you can’t simply dump setting details and move on. Instead, you must incorporate those details into a scene, but more so than the average beginning. Confusing, isn’t it? How do you know when you have the right balance? Your critique partner or beta reader should be able to tell you if the pace of the opening scene is too slow. Or they may not know why, but they just couldn’t get into it. What’s the fix? Make sure to add something to cause the reader to care and question everything. Well, not EVERYTHING, but you get the picture.

Next week, I’ll fill you in on a few more beginning scene possibilities.

Have you used any of these openings for your stories? When reading, which of these three do you prefer?


  1. I've never started a novel with dialog! I always tend to use setting. Maybe because that's what I do best and I want to put my best foot forward. I should try it, though!

  2. I write historicals. My current story begins with an action sequence. In the first sentence I introduce the heroine and her young daughter in the midst of the action and use historical references to set the time period.

    Care to share one of your first lines, Lynnette, one that's a particular favorite?

  3. I've used all of these for different mss. For me, which approach I use depends on the type of novel, the voice and what person it's told in.

    For reading, I think suspense draws me in quicker than the others. Using setting would be my least favorite, though there are some great books (The Hobbit) that start with setting.

  4. Great post! Suspense is my favorite. :-)

  5. My WIP is a setting beginning. It's an important scene that the character will go back to. I like these ideas, though. Maybe I'll do some writing prompts and try them out!

  6. Great stuff! I'd just add one thing to the setting....if that's where we're going to start, we should make sure we introduce the setting in a way that shows the main chracter interacting with it in some way. Like the setting as a character, somehow affecting the MC or eliciting strong emotions or some sort of conflict.

    Thanks for this, Lynette!

  7. Aubrie: Nothing wrong with doing what you do best.

    Keli: That's a great idea for another post. Watch for it either next week or the week after.

    Amy and Shannon: I'm with you. Suspense is my favorite, but I like dialogue, too.

    Kayeleen: That's a great way to use the beginning of your story and show that there's a reason for that particular scene.

    Katie: That's exactly what I meant when I talked about incorporating the details into the scene. Thanks for clarifying this.

    Lynnette Labelle

  8. I usually use dialogue, but I think the setting one would be cool. The death beginning is intriguing-just reading about it had me hooked! Lol

  9. I guess a combination of suspense and action - I begin with a character dying in action and it isn't until later that readers discover that character's identity.

  10. Great thoughts! I usually start with suspense or at least action and tension. I like the thought that the opening is the line in the sand, the whole statement to be over-turned by the end of the book.

    I rarely go for setting because those are parts I gloss over in my own reading. Instead, in reading for fun, I look for an outlandish or bold opening sentence about the action. (Or that line in the sand.) Does that make sense?

  11. Right - just wrote a comment and it disappeared so I apologise if this is a duplicate!

    I hate it when there's too much description in the first few paragraphs. Give me some action!