Wednesday, October 7, 2009

First Scenes First

I must give credit to the http://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/ newsletter I received recently - I found the following to be quite helpful, as I was writing an opening scene that very day. I thought I'd share it with you today. Always sharpening that writer's craft pencil, and every little bit helps. Enjoy!

First Scenes First
I want you to walk to your bookshelf. At random, pick out a novel, any novel, that you've already read. Reread the first scene of this novel before continuing this discussion. [Waiting for you to select and read first scene ? tick tock, tick tock ?] After you've read this first scene, I want you to ask yourself the following questions:

What did you learn about the character in this scene?
What hints of complications or future tensions are found in this scene?
What do you know about the plot so far?
What is the significance of starting at this exact point in time?
As a reader, did you feel you immediately knew enough about the character to be drawn in?

The opening scene of your novel carries a lot of weight. It needs to simultaneously introduce you to your protagonist and to a significant situation. First impressions aren't just important for meeting people. They may determine whether the shopper in the bookstore goes on to become your reader.

4 comments:

Maria Zannini said...

This is brilliant! Thank you.

I always learn best by example, and this is a great way to disseminate what I did right--and wrong.

Phyllis Bourne said...

I pulled two favorites my keeper shelf and both openings hit the ground running. They hit me with the character and her immediate problem, with no clunky background filler.

I do pretty good with openings, but struggle with endings. I worry they're too corny, even for my sugary sweet writing style.

Captain Black said...

I fully agree that the first scene, or first few scenes, are crucial in order to hook readers into wanting to read more. It's also important to get straight into the action and not weigh the reader down with a lot of preamble and back-story. You also quite rightly say that the main character(s) need to be introduced.

So, altogether a good lesson and exercise. Apart from one thing, that is. If it's a book you've read before then you already know the story, therefore don't need quite as much introduction (more of a recap instead). I think this exercise would work a lot better for books we haven't read before.

Liane Spicer said...

Wanted to wait till I got home and could grab one of my own books...

Picked Forfeit, prize winning horse/jockey thriller by Dick Francis. Good choice. Introduced character, the complications and dangers of his journalistic work blowing the lid off sports scandals, and hinted at the tension regarding his wife without indicating its source exactly.

Then there's the last sentence of the first scene: Snap decisions had got me into trouble once or twice in the past. All the same, I made this one. It proved to be the most trouble-filled of the lot.

All of which drew me in - quite apart from the fact that I've read several of his books and his name on the cover is all it takes to sell me the others. Why? I know not only that he sets the reader up for a good read from the first scene, but that he delivers on his promise.

I enjoyed this exercise, Marissa. I'll do like the Captain suggests and try it with a book/author I haven't read.