While doing some research for a project, I stumbled across an interesting post over on Be Kind Rewrite. The 21 Best Tips for Your Opening Scene has some good advice. Check it out if you have a chance.
And along these lines, I thought I’d reiterate some of my thoughts on this critical portion of your work.
The First Ten Pages Are Critical
When I was reading for Shriekfest, I usually knew whether or not I’d be saying yes by the end of page 10. If it appeared the writer was talented and put in honest effort, I could tell. I could also tell when the writer either didn’t take the work seriously and how much they knew about screenwriting.
For The Love Of All Good Things – It’s Not A Dream
Stephanie says not to start with a dream sequence. I’m going to add you had better not bring the reader to the end of the book and have us find out everything was just a dream. I think it kind of worked once, in A Nightmare On Elm Street, because Wes Craven was brilliant and it was ambiguous.
Now that I think about it, maybe it worked twice if you consider Occurance At Owl Creek Bridge.
Why? Readers feel gypped when they get to the end of a story and find out it didn’t really happen.
Is It The Black Moment
One of the interesting points is what Hallie Ephron calls the stolen prologue – where you take the black moment and put it at the beginning of the book. I can see Hallie’s point, that if you start here it can seem easy.
This is an interesting one and I’m not so sure I agree. I’ve seen some well-written books by big names that start in a dark moment, then rewind and show us what led up to that moment. I think the key is making the black moment even bigger than it seemed when we first saw it. That’s how the people who use this pattern pull it off: when you come back to it, and if you use this pattern you will – think bigger.
Examples? Hmm…I’ll make it easy for you. Watch a couple seasons of The X-Files or early seasons of CSI. There were times they used this technique and it’s very powerful.
The Scene Can Be Tense and NOT Be The Black Moment
In my novel THE TRIP, I drop the reader into the story during a tense scene – Meghan, Chris and Dave are surrounded by zombies and in a tight spot. They can’t go back the way they came because they’re cut off and going forward is unknown, but turning back is certainly a death sentence. A decision is made – that two of the three don’t agree with but they’ll follow the rules.
It’s a very tense scene, but it’s not the black moment. (Oh no, it gets much worse – by orders of magnitude -for these three)
Can You Come Off Another Conflict?
Stories are driven by conflict. You have to be a little careful with how much you put in because the audience doesn’t know your characters yet. But a trick I use is starting with the end of the last story.
Raiders of the Lost Ark uses this hook very effectively. I mostly write scifi, horror and action, so often my protagonists are coming off a previous case or mission. This may not work for all genres.
Remember, No Absolutes
I’m going to reiterate my mantra here: there are no absolutes in art. Art history is full of people who didn’t listen to the detractors and did things their way, becoming wild successes.
I’ve gotten advice from instructors, which I needed to follow to pass the class, then gone on and revised so I put my way back. Some – nigh, many – of those stories went on to win contests and get me attention of some well-connected people.
How effective would it have been if I didn’t stick to my guns and make the changes? I have no idea and I’m not going to guess, because I’m happy with the results.