Open SESAME! A lot of authors would love to have a couple magic words that would create the perfect opening for their books. They know that opening scenes are critical to a books success. You, as a reader, judge the book heavily by that first scene and vote with your money and attention if you like it -- and if you don’t.
My book writing process doesn’t involve lots of rewrites. I write a book from start to finish and as I learn new things about the characters and story I go back and add them in. But I edit as I go, so when I’m done -- I’m done. Except for the opening. I will revise, tweak, perfect and even throw out and start over the opening of my books many times trying to get them right.
Here are three essentials about the opening scene of books that may be useful for writers and good information for readers when deciding to choose a certain book.
- Start at the perfect moment -- Easier said than done! Picking the place to start a story is critical. Generally you want to start right before the key moment in the book when everything changes for your main character. Often in romance this is when the MC meets the lover -- but not always. Start the book too early and you’ll bore the reader with backstory and unnecessary detail. Start too late and readers have to see the critical scene in flashback which is generally less exciting than seeing it live. For example, in Spell Cat the book starts with Killian Barth teaching a class. “Witches burned at the stake!” is the first line and we quickly see that he is adored by his students, mostly his females students, is worried about an impending marriage, and by the end of the scene he has met the man who changes his entire life.
- · Even though the opening moment is before the critical event, the moment still has to be exciting. Starting in the middle of action is often a great choice. In my MMF ménage, Deceptive Attraction, I originally started the story as my hero walked across the parking lot to the gay bar where he was about to meet the mysterious Eli. We were in his head as he thought about his critical soccer contract decision. Not too exciting. My critique partner, Sharon Hamilton, said, “He’s a soccer star. Use that.” The opening of the book now starts on the field with him saving the final goal in the game and then being kissed by a groupie and we get to see that he’s “more turned on by the asses in the shower than by the girl.”
- · The opening scene must also reveal the character and suggest the problem of the main character. The main character of any book is going to undergo a transformation. We need to see what they are like and what their life is like before that transformation occurs.
Sometimes in first scenes, you want to hedge your bets. The writer might want to let the reader in on something that is important but not the main character’s point-of-view. That may be a cause for a prologue. I did that in Golden Dancer, a romantic suspense that came out last year. In my current WIP, the first scene begins with my werewolf learning that he has to marry a female for the good of his pack despite the fact that he is gay. But, the scene doesn’t show the darkness of the impending threat from the villain. So I’ve added a prologue to the book giving the reader a taste of how nasty that threat can be. We’ll see if I leave it in. We’ll see if my editor likes it! LOL
So there it is. A thumbnail of great beginnings. When you love a story, chances are these three things are all present. What are some of your favorite book openings?
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