In all successful novel scenes, something happens. That seems obvious, but it’s harder to pull off than it sounds. That’s because there are two important aspects to making something happen: character development and new information. It’s so easy to focus on one or the other, but that often makes scenes that readers skim.
You guide your main character through the heavy door and shut the door behind you. Each of you sits down on opposite sides of a metal table. “Now,” you click a pen and begin to write on a notepad. “Who are you, and what are you doing in my story?”
Who are you?
The person sitting across from you cowers. Or glares. Or smirks. Or rages. “Well?” You tap your fingers. “Answer the question.”
A memorable first sentence can resonate in your head like organ music in a church. It can take you from reading the first page to see what the book is about to realizing that you should probably buy the book instead of reading it there in the bookstore.
But one of the hardest things for an author to do is write an attention-grabbing opening.
Here are four ways to make openings that keep your readers turning the page:
1. Make it surprising.
A lot of people will tell you that you should have an action-packed scene to open your story. This isn’t necessarily the case: It’s hard to keep the momentum in the following scenes that won’t be as full of action, and these kinds of openings might even be starting to get cliché.
What you should have in your opening is something unexpected. “It was a dark and stormy night” is so famous that everyone knows how it will go, and everyone wakes up in the morning thinking about their day. If the first paragraph of your book is predictable, there’s no reason to expect the next page to be more interesting.
When we read a novel, we’re imagining what’s happening like it’s a movie playing in our minds. One thing that doesn’t happen much in great movies is mirror-gazing and introspection. That’s because watching someone look into a mirror and think for a long time is less exciting than watching a video buffer on dial-up. It’s much more interesting when an event reveals what the character thinks about himself (or herself) or about what’s happening.
Directors “block” a movie’s scene before they shoot it so that actors know where to move. They know that if the characters all stand in the same spot, the scene gets boring and doesn’t have any strong emotions in it. Take, for example, this scene from the Avengers where Tony Stark threatens Loki:
They could have just stood there and talked. Instead, the scene shows the Iron Man suit failing, Tony calmly offering Loki a drink and getting one for himself, and putting on the bracelet while Loki paces. Then Loki tries to kill him with the scepter, fails, and throws Stark out the window, whose Iron Man suit arrives to save him just in time. This visual-packed scene became one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.
Revealing things about your character by thinking is only a little better than having your character introduce themselves like, “Hi, I’m Mark. I have short dark hair and green eyes. My mom died a while ago, and I miss her. She was stubborn, but brave, and I hope I’m like her.” It’s a list of facts, and your reader isn’t feeling those emotions with the character. Boring scenes are often because of listing too many facts without movement.Continue reading “How Movement Brings Boring Scenes to Life”→