14 Lessons from RWA14: #12, Slow Openings

James Scott Bell listed several things that might cause a story’s opening to fall flat:

  1. Happy people in Happy Land. Yes, your opening scene is before the inciting incident, but that doesn’t mean it should start with no conflict. Sometimes, the best way to get this conflict is to cut chapter one and go straight to two. Sometimes, it requires that you add an extra character (even if minor) to spice things up.
  2. Too much backstory. We’ve all heard this but “too much” according to James Scott Bell is¬†anything over one sentence in the first chapter. He said, “Act first, explain later. Readers will wait for an explanation if they are intrigued.” Your job in chapter one is to intrigue, intrigue, intrigue.
  3. Main character too alone or too still. The result of this is similar to #1. You need to show some kind of conflict right from the beginning. Think of it this way: if your reader spent the first chapter copying the main character’s actions, how excited would they be if they were waking up from a nap or staring outside at a landscape? The first chapter is an invitation to a party. Don’t start with elevator music.
Category: On Writing