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The Opening Scene: A Litmus Test



Friday I blogged about opening lines and pages and their importance. (Thanks for those who gave feedback on my lines, btw!) Based on the comments I received, I am clearly not the only one who freaks out over openings. This, of course, sent me to my piles of writing books to see what the pros had to say about the opening scene.

One of my favorite writing books Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan Rosenfeld (If you don't have it, get it. The book breaks down the elements of a scene and also goes over types of scenes--dramatic/contemplative/action/flashback etc.) Anyway, the book also has a great litmus test for what needs to be present in an opening scene.
Below are the basic components. I'll put my completed novel to the test as an example and see how it goes.
1. A challenge to your protagonist's status quo.
Ex.) My MC (Willow) finds out that she's received a scholarship to a stuck-up private school out of state. She doesn't want to go. She's found her safe niche at her current school and doesn't want to mess things up.
Thoughts: I think this works. A new school and state would threaten any teen's status quo.
2. An antagonist for your character to encounter. (Doesn't have to be THE antagonist.)
Ex.) Willow's mother wants her to take the scholarship and argues with her.
Thoughts: Perhaps my antagonist and conflict could be stronger. She loves her mother, so although they argue, Willow holds back a lot.
3. Introduce your protagonist's immediate intentions.
ex.) Willow likes to blend in, to play things low key. She has to figure out a way to talk her mom out of moving her to a new school.
Thoughts: I think her intentions are pretty obvious, so this probably works.
4. A glimpse into your MC's history/personality/motivation.
ex.) Willow responses to her mother show her to be sarcastic, smart, and self-deprecating. But also loving and concerned about making her mother happy. In many ways, we see that she has taken on an adult role to offset her mother's flightiness.
Thoughts: I could probably add more heft in my opening for this component to clarify my MC's motivation
5. The protagonist makes a decision that leads immediately to more complications.
ex.) Willow decides to accept the scholarship, which of course leads to the whole rest of the story.
Thoughts: This decision changes everything in her life, so I think this works.

Okay, so putting my scene to these standards definitely shows me some holes I could work on.
What do you think? Are these components a good summary of what you like to read/write in an opening scene? Think back to your favorite books, do they follow these guidelines? Can you think of any other "must haves" in an opening?


Reader Comments (11)

I love the new look of your blog title. Thanks for posting these tips. You are going to make me go broke with all of your book suggestions! :)

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLazy Writer

Lazy writer: I understand. The book addiction can get out of hand. I always tell my husband that he should be happy I don't have a handbag or jewelry habit--books are a cheaper vice. :)

And thanks about the blog title. I'm far from tech savvy, so it took me a while to figure out how to dress it up a bit. Glad you like it.

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFictionGroupie

It looks so pretty and fresh over here...

and, your litmus test sounds pretty solid. I like your set up so far.

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTess

great tips! I am struggling with editing my beginning at the moment...I think I'll use this test to polish it up a bit more. Thanks!

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle McLean

Wow this came at a perfect time for me, I am playing with my opening and these questions give me a lot to think about! Thanks for a great post!

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate Karyus Quinn

First, I gotta say I love the new banner! As for the rest, yes, that sounds like a compelling formula. I agree that you have the ingredients.

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnna C. Morrison

I just loooooooooove how you put such wonderful info in. Thanks for it!

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShigune Matsui

yor blog is very informative..

god bless yu

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLesllie Tripaathhy

I'm glad ya'll found the post helpful. :) I'll try to include more topics like this in the future.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFictionGroupie

Good advice for first time writers.

April 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDark Angel

First, I gotta say I love the new banner! As for the rest, yes, that sounds like a compelling formula. I agree that you have the ingredients.

June 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnna C. Morrison

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