Written by A Guest Author September 15th, 2022

3 Things Your Opening Scenes Should Achieve

By Ashley Taylor Clark

You’ve done it — you’ve finally crafted the perfect plot, and you know exactly what your inciting event needs to be to get your protagonist started on their adventure. Now you just have to figure out how to get them there. You only have a handful of scenes with which to set up your character and story, and they need to be gripping enough that readers stick around long enough to get to the good stuff. So what do you do?

There are a variety of ways you can choose to open your story — jumping straight into the action, giving your protagonist a relatively boring start to their day, or one of countless other options — but there are a few things your opening scenes should achieve in order to best set your readers up for the story to come.

1) Expand on your opening line

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s important to get right. Your opening line may be the first thing that grabs your readers’ attention, but it’s nothing without proper backup. Your opening scenes should build on your first line, giving readers the details they need to connect that line to the rest of the story. If you’ve chosen to go with an emphatic, attention-grabbing first line, make sure your opening scenes provide context that gives the line meaning. If you’ve decided to wax poetic about your story’s core theme, make sure your scenes ground readers in a specific, personal story that illustrates that theme.

This serves a threefold purpose — not only are you introducing the story itself, you’re also building out the primary tone of the story and further establishing your unique writing style. It’s not as complicated as it may sound, though! As long as you follow the other tips on this list, this part should come naturally with the actual writing.

2) Give your protagonist a problem to solve

Setting up an immediate obstacle for your protagonist is a great way to introduce them to your readers. Simply by creating a conflict that needs resolving, you can highlight key aspects of your protagonist’s personality and set up a source of tension that will propel the story forward before you get to the inciting event.

This is also the point where you can establish the current status quo — in other words, the “normal” state of the world and characters. These details will help ground readers in the scene and show them the facets of the world that will be forever changed by the course of the plot. By showing the protagonist facing an issue in the relative comfort and safety of their daily life, you can show readers who they are, how they react to problems, and what their idea of “comfort and safety” looks like before the plot sets in.

3) Start at the right spot

For this tip to make sense, it’s important to understand one thing — the plot begins at the inciting event, and the story begins at the top of your protagonist’s character arc. You want to open up close enough to the inciting event that readers aren’t bogged down with details that become unimportant once the plot gets going, but not so late that we don’t get to know the protagonist and where they’re coming from.

The key to writing effective and compelling opening scenes is to set them at the point in the story where the protagonist is most willing to start making changes in their life, but just before they’re actually given the opportunity to do so. This helps readers understand their motivation for going on an adventure — essentially, why they’re the protagonist, instead of some other character.

In Conclusion

Knowing what purpose your opening scenes serve and what you should aim to achieve when writing them takes away much of the difficulty of writing your story’s beginning. Simply follow these tips, and you’ll be moving on to your inciting event in no time.

Bio: Having spent all her life in the rainy PNW, Ashley knows the value of spending time inside with a good book. She turned her passion for stories into a career as a freelance fiction editor, sharing her expertise and enthusiasm with her fellow writers.


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