On the popular blog, Writer Unboxed, Ray Rhamey offers a recurring piece called Flog a Pro. Rhamey identifies six key ingredients that the opening page of a novel must feature: story questions, tension (in the reader, not the character), voice, clarity, scene-setting, and character.
Here he breaks down the opening page of the runaway best-seller Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.
While it’s not a requirement to have all six ingredients, Rhamey writes, an author has a better chance of hooking a reader if many of these elements are present.
I am in the midst of refining the beginning pages of my work-in-progress and this effort got me thinking about effective beginnings. In researching this topic, I found a lot of advice from agents and editors about what not to do in the opening page of a novel:
–Start too slowly
–Dump a lot of backstory about the main character
–Include too much exposition
–Introduce the story with a dream sequence
–Begin with slam-bang action, mayhem, maybe even a few deaths. Action without context will only confuse the reader.
Here are more types of bad beginnings from agent Chuck Sambuchino:
Rhamey’s list is a solid starting point, but it needs elaboration. There’s one more essential ingredient and it relates to one of his ingredients, character. One inviolate rule about effective opening scenes is the writer must make the reader care about the main character. What does that mean? To me, it means the writer must create an emotional connection between the reader and the character. This is by far the most challenging aspect of crafting an effective beginning.
I found a lot of great advice about opening scenes and I want to share it here:
This post is a fantastic mashup called the 21 best tips for writing your opening scene
And some tips on opening sentences from the blog Fuel Your Writing.
Will Greenway offers eight rules.
Chuck Wendig, 25 things to know about an opening chapter is irreverent, funny and true.
To these many words of wisdom I add one more and this I cannot stress enough: spend whatever time is necessary to make the first scene sing. If you are not spending more time on the opening scene than on the rest of your manuscript, you’re not trying hard enough.