Want to bore your readers and ensure they never get past your first paragraph? Write your opening as it were stage directions: describe a character or a room or the light or the hills…
It’s a familiar trap and we do it for a good reason — we’re trying to create an atmosphere or paint a picture in the reader’s head. The problem, from a reader’s perspective, is that we haven’t given them a reason to care about the pretty picture we’re painting.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen to combat this problem is to start your scene as close to the action as possible (and by ‘action’ I mean ‘conflict’, and by ‘conflict’ I mean ‘the thing that’s going to torment/delight your character and therefore your reader, until the story is finished.)
How Quentin Tarantino Slapped Me in The Face
Reservoir Dogs is a deeply unpleasant, unsettling movie, but when I went to see it in the theaters I came out stunned, not just by the gore, but also by the masterful storytelling. And it started right from the opening.
The opening scene takes place in a diner. No, there’s no ‘action’ in the scene but the conversation sets up all the characters (including a discussion about tipping). The meal is over, we’re entering the scene at the last possible minute, right before the interesting stuff happens and the characters reveal themselves. We feel that the characters existed, knew things, had lives, before we started to observe them.
Immediately after the credits, we jump to the interior of a car where, clearly, something has gone wrong. Mr Orange has been shot and Mr White and he are racing away from somewhere. Granted, Reservoir Dogs ‘cheats’ a little because the rest of the movie is told in flashbacks, but for our purposes, this scene illustrates my point. This scene could have started with the crime going wrong. It could have started with Mr Orange injured and being dragged to the car. But it doesn’t. They’re in the car. He’s sure he’s dying. Mr White appears to be helping him (quite tenderly, for a foul-mouthed criminal…). Horrifying as the scene is, you are fascinated. It’s hard to resist finding out what is going on.
And all because we walk in to the story when the action has already started. This is something we, as writers, need to do in our stories.
Write a heist story, but start it as late in the action as you possibly can.
You don’t have to go all Reservoir Dogs. You can write a gentle, comedy ‘heist’ where no-one is really in peril (a little old lady trying to make off with a pie from one of those rotating cases in a diner, armed only with a crochet hook…)
Try not to use ‘flashbacks’. Instead, start the scene when it’s getting interesting (when the crook is confronted? When the pursuit is in full flight?)
Make sure your readers know, early on, what’s at stake, and gradually unfold the reasons for your main character’s actions as the story goes on.
You can make the criminal sympathetic by giving them a good reason for attempting robbery, or you can make someone else the hero.
Keep putting obstacles in your protagonist’s way.
1. You should use the prompt in your story.
2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!
Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook
Some tweets/updates you might use:
This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is about openings #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-openings
Come and write with us! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-openings
See my story – and write your own, today: openings! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-openings
Don’t miss my heist story #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-openings