Get Your Novel Moving: Cure for Stagnant Openings

Does your novel open like this: Main Character staring out a window, riding in a car, train, plane or spaceship? How about the dreaded Back Story? Many first novels open with elements that slow and in some cases, kill off the reader’s sense of movement.
Writing Tip for Today: It’s not hard to bring a novel opening to a standstill. Fortunately there are ways to remedy or prevent stagnant openings.

  • Just Do Something. If, in the first pages, you portray your Main Character (MC) in a vehicle on the way to where the novel will be set, you may want to rewrite it. “Driving to the story,” as it’s known, only slows the real story down and tempts you as the writer to pad the opening with all sorts of fascinating back story. The Cure: In a vehicle your MC is normally sitting, so the reader sees her only from the waist up. Not too much action there. Instead, try setting MC in an active scene, weaving tidbits of crucial info around the action.
  • Who’s On First? This type of novel opening also almost always features MC on stage alone for a time. A character on stage alone will have a harder time interacting with others–thereby limiting the conflict and tension. The Cure: Get you MC involved with another character right away, and resist the urge to tell all about the MC’s background. Go for the action and the problem instead.
  • Stay On Stage and Out of the Head. Novels where the MC sits and thinks about a lot of stuff traps readers inside that head. While you can and should utilize inner thoughts to enrich the character’s depth, too much “sittin’ and thinkin'” stagnates the scene and stalls the action. The Cure: Learn to WEAVE. By that I mean weave short bits (1-2 sentences) around the dialogue and action. This will help prevent the soliloquy from slowing the novel to a snail’s pace.

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.

4 comments on “Get Your Novel Moving: Cure for Stagnant Openings

  1. Your tip is so right on. Been there, done that!
    Of course, what’s really happening is the writer gathering her thoughts, rolling up her sleeves and sharpening the pencils…metaphorically speaking. So, that’s what the reader gets…getting ready.

    Thanks for all your useful and insightful tips.


    • Hi cgesc! If you like you can subscribe to Linda Clare’s Writer’s Tips on the right-hand sidebar or choose the email option, which will deliver a new post to your inbox on Mondays and Wednesdays. I’m glad you are getting a benefit from the tips. Miss Crankypants only gripes, so she is no help for aspiring novelists. 🙂 Write on! ~Linda

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