Writing the opening scene of your novel

The horse’s hooves thundered across the ground. Tosh dug his claws into the saddle as his back legs threatened to slip off. A firm hand pressed against his side, pulling him closer toward the young man behind him. Feeling safer, Tosh leaned out to see the terrain up ahead. He blinked his eyes in disbelief at what he saw.

You can’t be serious.

“We can make it,” Nolan said, speaking directly into his mind.

Tosh looked up at him, but Nolan wasn’t looking at the ravine. He was looking over his shoulder at the three men on horseback chasing them. Tosh caught a glimpse of a hefty man with a red beard leaning forward, urging his mount to run faster. He clearly was gaining on them. Tosh looked at the ravine before them.

It is too far for her to jump.

“Ah come on, Tosh. She’ll do just fine.”

Tosh sighed. Nolan rarely listened to any advice he gave him unless it coincided with something that Nolan already wanted to do. Knowing there was no way and no time to change the young man’s mind, Tosh curled up against him. He dug his claws deeper into the saddle and wrapped his tail protectively around his body. He felt Nolan lean forward as the mare’s hooves left the ground. He closed his eyes, counting the seconds until he felt the mare land on the other side. She stumbled slightly, and Tosh opened his eyes to see a small section of ground at the ravine’s edge fall.

CIMG1036And thus begins my short story, The Search. I started with an action scene to draw the reader in. And that is the point of the beginning of your story. You want the reader to be hooked and want to keep reading.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to start with this type of scene. And if you start with an action scene, the reader might be confused on what is happening. They don’t know who this character is and have not built any connection to them.

When I first started writing Summoned, I had trouble deciding where to begin the story. I ended up re-writing the beginning countless times. I originally started with Lina’s first view of the city and then later changed it to them arriving at the city’s gate. Finally, I moved it to her having a dream, something that plays an important role in the story. Here is the beginning of Summoned.

The young woman tossed in her bed, muttering softly. She rolled over, her long honey-colored hair covering her pale face. Her fingers dug into the mattress. She shook her head as she sank deeper into the dream.

The yellow light cut through the dark. Her eyes stayed focused on it as it flickered before her like a hundred candles dancing in a soft summer breeze, growing brighter as she neared. As she walked, her hands reached out, touching the smooth, cold stone wall. That alone should have warned Lina something was not right. Even as her mind called out that this was all wrong, she continued down the hall toward the light and toward whatever was calling her.

No one called out her name. No, the calling was unspoken but strong. The urge to respond to it consumed every part of her. She knew she must obey. What was calling her and why were unimportant to her now. All that mattered was she must go.

As she reached the end of the hall, Lina paused. The bright light hung above a curved stone staircase. She lifted her hand, shielding her eyes. She wished she could block out the light. And the calling. Then she saw the doorway to her right. Without thinking, she opened the door, slipping into the dark room. She heard low voices coming from the adjoining room. She tilted her head as she listened but the words were too soft to understand. She moved toward the room, pausing in the archway. What she saw next made her tremble with fear. Her hand flew to her mouth as the cloaked man before her turned. Suddenly, the floor trembled. The walls began to tumble and the floor collapsed beneath her. She saw her hair swirl around her as she fell. She opened her mouth, a scream on her lips, yet nothing came out. She pressed her eyes closed as she waited for the impact she knew was coming.

If I wanted to start with more of an action or suspense scene, I could have started with the gypsies kidnapping her which happens at the end of the first chapter, but I wanted a little more introduction of my main character. Of course starting with a dream is not the best way to begin a story unless you let the reader know right off that it is a dream. (Starting a novel in a dream without letting the reader know it was a dream is listed as one of the worst ways to begin a novel – but then again so are prologues which I used in each installment in my trilogy.)

There are many different ways to start a novel and many websites describing those ways. (My least favorite is having a long description of the scenery Endless description is #2 on the 7 worst ways to begin a novel – the link is above.) For 12 ways to start your novel, check out this website that illustrates those ways with the “100 Best Lines from Novels,” as chosen by the editors of the American Book Review. But the most important thing is your story must start with a strong opening scene that hooks the reader.

2 thoughts on “Writing the opening scene of your novel

  1. […] have already written before about the opening scenes of your novel but here are a few […]

  2. […] Overview – Look at the pace (is the first chapter too slow?), can scenes be cut without effecting plot, are there any dull scenes, would it be better […]

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