Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go helps you to overcome the weak openings.
Opening with your character’s thoughts
Opening with your character’s thoughts can be very effective, but you have to be careful that you don’t begin with a character ruminating about some past dreadful event—or even the inciting incident after it’s occurred.
At a story’s beginning, we need a scene that we can live through with the protagonist as his initial surface problem is created. We can’t do that with the sequel to a scene, in which the protagonist is merely (and dully) reflecting on that event. Let us be as surprised as the protagonist is, and we’ll have nearly the same emotional reaction as she does!
The difference between and Inciting Incident and a situation
The mistake many writers make is confusing a situation—most times, a negative situation—with an inciting incident.
Think about Thelma & Louis. Prior to her small act of defiance, Thelma is more or less aware that she’s involved in a bad relationship, but, as we come to learn during the remainder of the movie, she’s been in a state of denial for most of her marriage. This means that for most of her marriage—for most of her story—she’s lived within the confines of her circumstances, thus existing in a bad situation. Thelma’s small act of defiance—her decision to finally take action and go on the trip with Louise without asking her husband for permission—is what turns her situation into a story. It is the event that creates the initial surface problem and sets up the introduction of the story-worthy problem.
Red flag openers to avoid
- Never, ever, ever begin a narrative with action and then reveal the character’s merely dreaming it all.
- Don’t open with your protagonist waking to an alarm clock ringing, or to someone shaking her awake, or to a cute little birdie chirping from her bedroom window, or to a blazing sun shining through the window.
- Don’t write sentences like: ‘Was she going to come in or stay out on the porch, he thought to himself.’
- One of the primary red flags is the absence of dialogue on the first few pages of a manuscript.
- The problem with beginning a story with dialogue is that the reader knows absolutely nothing about the first character to appear in a story.