As a writer who likes to read voraciously, I notice things. Like how flawlessly some of my favorite authors manipulate mere words into heart wrenching stories. How sometimes it just takes that first sentence and I am hopelessly hooked until the last page.
As someone who has a manuscript gathering dust under my nightstand, I am more than familiar with opening scenes. I wrote one and the last time I read it, I wanted to throw myself off the bed in a fit of despair because hopefully that blow to the head would jostle up a more creative opening scene.
Writer’s Digest gave a thorough breakdown of what makes a good opening scene and as a writer this is great to keep in mind when I’m trying to create the perfect opener. To be considered for publication, I have to impress the editors, who have already read hundreds of manuscripts before even reaching the pile containing my baby.
However, I also think that readers are tough critics in their own right. Reading takes time and no one has time to trudge through a novel just because. I’ve heard of many people who have given up on books that were on the New York Times Bestseller’s List because it started too slow. (Sometimes those are the best books).
I am not an Editor but I do read and I know what I like. As a reader, I want the first words I read to be important.
Here are a few examples of opening scenes from an array of authors who have completely different writing styles and opening scenes however they all contain depth.
Whether it is subtle or blatant, each author is definitely setting the stage.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 0627 hours on January 1, 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgment would not be too heavy upon him. He lay in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed on either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage license (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him.
The Interruption of Everything by Terry McMillan
The only reason I’m sitting on a toilet seat in the handicapped stall of the ladies’ room is because I’m hiding. My break is just fifteen minutes long and I’m trying to decide with the help of a book on the subject of “the change” if Paulette was really on to something when she suggested I get a blood test to see if my hormone levels were diminishing. And if it turns out to be true, I might want to get them replenished with something besides the Good & Plenty I’ve been eating by the handful for the last seven or eight months and I don’t even like licorice.
Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner
“Have you seen it?” asked Samantha.
I leaned close to my computer so my editor wouldn’t hear me on a personal call.
“Oh nothing. Never mind. We’ll talk when you get home.”
“Seen what?” I asked again.
“Nothing,” Samantha repeated.
“Samantha, you have never once called me in the middle of the day about nothing. Now come on. Spill.”
Samantha sighed, “Okay but remember: Don’t shoot the messenger.”
Love, Honor, and Betray by Kimberla Lawson Roby
The verdict had sort of been in for months now. But at this very moment, Charlotte’s feelings were crystal clear: She hated Curtina. She despised this tiny, little two year old with a passion and wanted her out. She wanted her gone because it wasn’t fair that Charlotte had to stomach Curtis’ illegitimate daughter on a daily basis. Curtina was there all the time, what with her tramp of a mother going in and out of the hospital on the regular.
This is How You Lose her by Junot Diaz
I’m not a bad guy. I know that sounds—defensive, unscrupulous—but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. Magdalena disagrees though. She considers me a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole. See, many months ago, when Magda was still my girl, when I didn’t have to be careful about almost anything, I cheated on her with this chick who had tons of eighties freestyle hair.