The opening scene in any book is crucial. If you bore your readers with a dull, uninteresting beginning, then you risk losing your audience before you’ve even started.
Instead, you want to make sure that the first scene in your book grabs the reader and keeps them hooked. It’s got to be enticing, intriguing, and inviting. But how on earth can you pull that off? Fear not; this post will explain how to craft the perfect opening scene in 7 simple steps.
Step #1. Set the Tone
Your opening scene should match the overall tone of the rest of the story. But don’t worry if you don’t have your entire novel planned just yet; you are still free to create your world as you go along. Just keep in mind that your first few pages should match the same style and approach that you intend to use throughout the story so that it doesn’t appear disjointed and out of place.
For example, if your novel is going to be an edge of your seat, page-turning crime thriller, then a gentle, romantic, and reflective opening scene might not be the best choice. Sure, you can still include slower moments of contemplation throughout your book, but opening with a contrasting scene like this only serves to confuse your readers, and you risk losing your audience before you’ve had a chance to get started.
Step #2. Pick the Right Point of View
Choosing the right point of view is one of the most crucial decisions in the book writing process. The narrative perspective, which is sometimes referred to as the narrative mode, plays a defining role in how your reader relates to the story and its characters.
Here are the three main types of POVs that authors use in fiction.
- First Person POV:
In the first person POV, one of the characters narrates the story from their own perspective. The sentence structures will reply on first-person pronouns, for example, “I woke up this morning” or “I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
Choosing a first person POV creates an intimate relationship with the narrating character and works particularly well in young adult novels, where the reader can quickly gain a connection with the narrator and slip into their world.
You can also use the first person POV when the narrator isn’t the main protagonist, but this can be limiting, as the reader can only experience the events in the story through the eyes of one person. That being said, this can add an element of intrigue and mystery and keep the reader guessing. One of the most famous examples of a successful non-protagonist first person point of view is the character of Nick Carraway in F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
- Second Person POV:
The second person POV is the least common narrative perspective in fiction, but it can serve to engage your readers into the story when used correctly. In the second person POV, the sentence structures rely on the “you” pronoun, for example, “you were there for me when no one else was.”
It can be tricky to write an entire novel in the second person point of view, and it requires a lot of skill to successfully pull it off. But this type of narrative can be an excellent tool for shorter sections of your book or specific chapters where it’s appropriate to speak directly to the reader.
- Third Person POV:
When authors use the third person POV, they rely heavily on pronouns such as “he” and “she,” for example, “he stepped out into the darkness.” This common use of perspective is often told by an unknown narrator, a kind of birds-eye view, and helps to build suspense and intrigue throughout a story. It’s a popular POV in mystery and thriller novels, but it’s used successfully across pretty much every genre of fiction.
Whichever POV you choose, it should lend itself well to your story and how you want the reader to perceive it. If you’re still unsure, try reading some more best-selling books from within your genre of choice to see how other authors have framed their stories.
#3: Write an Amazing Opening Line
It’s time to actually put pen to paper (or start tapping those keys). Writing the very first line of your novel can feel overwhelming, and writer’s block can get you before you’ve even begun. But don’t worry; the most important thing to remember is that you can go back and change anything you want. When you realize there’s no pressure to set the first line in stone, you’re much more likely to come up with something genuinely amazing. And if you don’t? No biggie; you can come back and edit it when your story has been fleshed out later on.
There’s no sure-fire way of crafting the perfect opening line, and what you write will depend largely on the direction you want your novel to go in. That being said, there are a couple of key things to keep in mind.
- Don’t ramble
There may be sentences in your novel that ramble on a little, and these can even add to the mood and tone of the story. But the first line is not the place for this. Try to keep it short and clear.
- Go easy on the adjectives
Try to focus on the what rather than the how. Use verbs instead of excessive adjectives at this stage in the game.
If you’re still stuck for inspiration, check out this great post by Jericho Writers on how to craft the perfect first sentence for your book.
#4. Introduce a Key Character
Now it’s time to introduce your reader to a key character from your story. By starting off with a human element, you help to move the story forward and keep your reader engaged. If you wait too long to do this, you run the risk of getting bogged down in the details and boring your reader early on.
Instead, focus on one main character or even a select small group of characters to give the reader something to anchor their attention to and become emotionally invested in.
In the opening scene, it’s best to avoid going into great detail about a backstory or being overly descriptive about a setting or landscape. Even the most elegantly crafted sentences and electrifying vocabulary risks losing your reader at this stage.
But in the same vein, don’t try to introduce a character by launching into a heavily detailed description of who they are and what they look like. Instead, describe them doing something that reflects an element of their personality or their life situation. Give the reader subtle clues about this new character but hold some information back so that they have enough to start building a picture in their minds while keeping them guessing.
#5. Create a Sense of Tension
You don’t have to begin all guns blazing with a high-stakes action scene. But you should create the feeling that there is something at stake, a sense of conflict, or that something might go wrong. Creating a sense of tension, whether it’s life or death or more low-risk, is one of the main ways to keep the reader invested.
#6. Let the Reader Know What the Character Wants
Let the reader know something about the character’s desires, whether it’s as huge as finding the money to find their husband’s cancer treatment or as benign as making it home in time to kiss their partner goodbye before they head off on a weekend trip. This creates tension, adds to the “what if “ feeling, and gets the reader to start routing for your characters.
#7. Set the Plot in Motion with an Event
Pretty early on, in the first few pages, you’re going to want to build the tension to a crescendo that cumulates in an incident or event. Again, it doesn’t have to be a super high-stakes, life-or-death incident (although if your story calls for it, it could be). It might just be an everyday situation that either inconveniences or delights your character and helps to drive the plot forward. From there, you have a foundation to build from, and you can begin to lay the foundations for what happens next.
#8. Bring it Full Circle
Once your plot is further developed, it’s a good idea to hark back to your opening scene, or an element from it, to bring the reader full circle and reward them for paying attention. For example, if your protagonist lost their credit card at the beginning of the story, they might find it in the pocket of a friend’s jacket several chapters later.
Creating that killer opening scene isn’t easy, not even for the most successful and prolific authors. Remember that you can always go back and tweak or edit your opening scene once you’re more established in the writing process. What’s important is getting something down that suits the tone and genre of your novel, entices the reader, and gives you a solid foundation from which you can grow your story.
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