Write A Better First Scene

Cranky Cat is Memorable, All Right!

Memorable novels have a first encounter with readers which not only pulls them in, but also gives them a sense of the direction of the novel as a whole and hints at the theme. While the amount of narrative before a scene varies, let’s take a look at what constitutes an effective first scene.
Writing Tip for Today: Opening scenes are crucial to the story as a whole. Here are some ways to help yours pull readers in and keep them engaged:

  • Get Characters Moving. Too many first novels feature a lone Main Character, mulling over the past. Although we can name novels with this situation that WORK, remember it takes a lot of skill to pull off a static scene. Try to avoid MC staring out a window, traveling from one place to another (also known as “driving to the story”) or other scene with little action. Readers are willing to forgo info about the MC (which is usually back story or flash back anyway) in exchange for ACTION. We need to see MC beginning to wrestle with the main story problem. Substitute a lone character sitting for a more active scene helps draw in the reader and gives the feeling of story movement too. 
  • Don’t Talk to Yourself. Put another character with MC and voila! You’ve got dialogue. Although you may open with a narrative (in the form of thoughts or telling), soon readers are eager to imagine more. Instead of telling readers where the story takes place, integrate the setting/time period by dropping clues around the dialogue and action. Some call this “weaving” story elements instead of “chunking” them in one place. A MC who is actively engaged with the world is usually more interesting than a long monologue outlining a problem.
  • How Do You Weave Flash backs? Writers often argue that they must tell the readers certain “back story” or “flash back” info in order for the readers to understand the character motives. If you insist on placing a big chunk of background into your opening, it bogs down quickly. Readers generally want what happens NEXT, not what happened ten years ago or even ten minutes ago. Learn to WEAVE or blend your BS by inserting one to three sentences around the action and dialogue in the form of thoughts and emotions and even body language of the POV character. This can be done on a need to know basis–so that it can’t slow or stall the story.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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