HELP, OPENING SCENES!
Impact—Action—Shock—Surprise, and we want them all in that opening line. That’s right, your opening line leading to your opening scene better grab that reader and keep them reading. Think about your own reading experiences. How many times have you put a book down because it didn’t grab you? Probably, a lot more than you remember, that’s right you won’t remember them because they failed to instantly hold your attention.
The introduction of your story is probably one of the most conflicting obstacles for an author to face. We have so much we want to show the reader, yet it isn’t exactly shocking, surprising or much action, but it is important. Remember when you were getting to know your characters and you were warned that you would be pulling out pages of material, now is when this happens.
All the information that you have gathered about your characters sounds great to you, but the reader does not necessarily need it all and certainly not upfront. In Dream Lover, the opening that is now in the book took over ten rewrites and as many and more pages pulled from the book.
At first the book started with a day at the office, showing the main character, Mackenzie’s problems with the business since her father’s death and her confiding to Gloria about the dream lover she can’t stop dreaming about. Every bit of this is information concerning the character and the story, but talk about dull. Changing it around didn’t work either. The final product took so many rewrites and changes it is difficult to remember them all, but it did finally come together.
Dreams Can’t Be Real!
“I-Will-Not-Think-Of-Him!” Mackenzie’s fist punched out each word against the pillows. Blowing up at the hair in front of her eyes, she crawled around the bed tugging at the tangled sheets. “Grown women don’t need fantasy lovers, Mac. Grow up!” Falling back into the pillows, she yanked the satin quilt up to her chin.
The final product did come out so much better and the readers kept reading. Trouble is--what happens to all that wonderful background information that is important to the story? What you do is pull the most vital information off the torn pages in your hand and then you weave it into the story as you go. The readers will eventually learn that her father died, Gloria gets unfairly blamed for so many things that happen to Mackenzie, and the readers meet her dream lover in the next couple paragraphs…
Sleep, instant sleep, no thoughts, only dreamless sleep. Tossing one way and then the next, she moaned over effort it took to relax. She heard the tiny gears in the clock turning as another number flipped. “This is useless,” she exclaimed, irritation filled her voice.
Mackenzie reached for the phone, but hesitated before dialing Gloria’s number. “That’s right, Mac, call her and ruin all your progress today. You never should have asked her about the dreams.” After suffering Gloria’s prying questions all afternoon, Mackenzie figured it would take some major convincing to get her friend calmed down. One swift kick sent the covers off the bed. She slipped on the matching satin robe to her nightgown and let the soft material fold about her waist. Each determined step sent the satin swirling up and around her legs.
Jerking open the bedroom door, she headed for the kitchen. Absently rubbing the robe’s sleeves, Mac never realized she held her breath until she flipped on the light above the stove. In a scolding whisper she said, “Tea, cinnamon rose—that should do the trick.” The flame shot up under the kettle before she adjusted the knob and moved knowingly about the kitchen, gathering a cup from the cupboard.
“Stop woman! Stop this endless calling!” The deep, decidedly male voice filled the silence in the apartment, paralyzing her into stunned stillness.
Now, how do you stop reading? Don’t you want to know who is yelling? The opening scene is really moving at this point and your reader will not be putting the book down.
Wait, we still haven’t answered the question, how do you write that reader grabbing sentence and opening scene? The answer won’t seem very easy at first and yes, it hurts to dump all those pages. (Actually, you never delete, save the pages to a file just in case you might need something.) Realize that the information will be used, just not the way you originally planned. In all honesty you were the one that needed all that background, so you would get to know your characters and what makes them who they are, so nothing is ever wasted.
That opening sentence, yes, we do need to write that one. You want that first sentence to reach out and touch your reader. There are two ways that works the best, action and dialogue. If you put your reader into the action, they can’t escape. If you also tie them up with pertinent dialogue they have to listen.
Dialogue and action, work the two together, bring in excitement through the dialogue and action of your character. Before you can write that perfect sentence, you need to step back and decide where exactly your story should start. Where as a reader would you like the story to begin?
If we drop back to Grant and Sassy’s story, originally it probably started at one or the other’s company and getting ready for the meeting about the political problem. Neither of them know each other, so they don’t begin to react until they meet. Yes, all that information about the companies and the problems are part of the story, but wouldn’t it make for a better read if we started off with the two of them together? Wouldn’t the readers like to see Sassy and Grant antagonizing each other more than reading about some political problem?
Why not start the story right when the two of them meet for the first time. It can be exciting and rather fun. We, the author, know the catalyst that puts them together and that will come out, but the reader is completely oblivious to the crisis. If the reader doesn’t know about the political problems, all they are going to see is what you show them. Let’s see if this works…
“Damn, why the heck did I wear these stupid heels?” Sassy twisted her foot the other way, but the shoe’s heel still refused to come out of the sidewalk grate. She wanted to bend over and get the shoe out, but the way the people kept rushing past her and bumping her, she didn’t dare try it.
The sudden feeling of warmth surrounding her ankle caused her squeal to escape. It earned her a warm, full lipped smile as she looked down into the most striking grey eyes. Handsome didn’t come close to defining the man that made her breasts instantly tighten.
“You might want to hold onto my shoulder. I wouldn’t want you to fall and I’d say you wore them to impress someone. A good choice…”
He could have said anything, she didn’t care. The only thing she could focus on were the ripcord muscles beneath her hands. For just a second she thought about falling then pushed the silly thought away as his hold encircled her leg and he leaned into her. His face stayed right there, pressing through the skirt against her pussy, her whole body heated up with a flash of erotic images that entailed his lips and her hot flesh.
Can you imagine how annoyed she is going to be when he continues to follow her into the building then elevator? Talk about blushing and you can move into Grant’s POV to show the reader how much he is enjoying her discomfort as the true reason they are there unfolds.
As a reader you are involved with the dialogue and the action, especially Grant’s action with Sassy. I know I would read more to see what kind of man would be so forward with a stranger in the middle of the sidewalk.
There are so many variations that can be written for the opening scene. You can play with a few of your own for your story. If you can’t decide the best way to begin ask a friend or family member to help you decide. Don’t be shy about asking them to read your work and their input should help.
Whatever the beginning might finally become, remember to drop your reader right into the action of the story. Think of it like a movie and instead of rolling the opening credits you are going to start the story right off with the shooting guns. Do remember to use your characters, don’t just write action, bring in the characters using either dialogue or internal thoughts.
A good example of internal thought happens in the beginning of Savage Destiny.
CHAPTER 1 – The Hawk
A black shadow drifted lazily over the green meadow...forever circling. The hawk’s flight drew tighter, passing through the billowy clouds across the sun’s fiery orb. Closing the distance on its prey each skilled sweep drew him nearer, nearer until the triumphant cry shattered the silent air warning of death’s descent.
Pride swelled in the man for his brother hawk’s skill. His own hunter eyes riveted back to the meadow, steeling again on his quarry. Swift as his brother, he too would soon move to…capture.
Stalking his prey since early morning, the sharp savage eyes watched the dark haired innocent move among the plentiful berry vines on the knoll. Fascination for the beauty and grace in each tantalizing gesture became potent medicine to his hunter instincts. Blackhawk’s senses were racing under the powerful awareness of her fluid body that sent the wild pulse of possessive yearning through his Shawnee blood. Patience and skill earned him honor as a great hunter, only the prey changed.
His gaze intensified on his prey. Soon she would near; he would strike then, with deadly cunning. Blackhawk flexed his shoulders and took in the warm noon air, filling the broad expanse of his powerful chest; the hours of waiting would make the catch all the more rewarding. Moving silently through the shadows, his fine warrior body tensed in readiness as his vigil neared its end.
Internal thoughts can be used just like dialogue, you can still bring your reader into the story. The action is also there in silence as he watches his prey and plans her capture.
Each story has its own unique qualities and will have its own perfect beginning. It is vital to remember the blend of action and dialogue or internal dialogue. Bring the reader right into the story at the place it starts. The perfect start is where your main characters meet for the first time. There are always exceptions, not every story allows for the characters to meet right at the start, this scenario happens in Pinky Swear.
Flying about her apartment in a cloud of euphoria, Andrea checked her mental list one last time. “Appliances shut off, plants watered, mail and paper stopped...” She’d have to call and start them a week earlier. She could have kissed Mr. Wang for his announcement this morning. What was a lost week of vacation over the promotion she always wanted? Besides, a week with her mother would be more than enough time for a visit.
“Guilt.” Sighing, Andrea knew it was the only reason she finally agreed to her mother’s persistent calls and letters over the visit. “At least he isn’t there anymore.”
A chill passed through her with the thoughts of her stepfather. “Even dead, he still scares the hell out of me!”
Was that why her thoughts kept returning to Tina? All those terrible memories existed back there, at her mother’s. Tina, what would she have done without her?
Against her will time moved backwards before her eyes...
The rules are still there, action and dialogue, only our hero is missing and he won’t show until the second chapter. The action keeps flowing in that first chapter.
You can find your opening to grab the readers, just start where the action, dialogue and your character(s) begin with the story. Once the beginning works the next scenes will fold into place.
The rule of action and dialogue holds true for scene changes and new chapters within the book. You can practice making scene changes and applying the rule. In the next part we will go into how to make smooth scene changes and hold your reader’s interest.
Words of Love