10 Tips for Starting Strong Scenes
Generally speaking, your scene structure should mirror the story structure. In other words, take a novel-writing approach to a scene, crafting a beginning, middle, and end. Like a story, the beginning of a scene should have a strong entry hook that pulls the reader in. Follow these tips to write a strong scene opener:
- Start with the setting. Often a new scene signifies a change in time and location. Establishing the setting at the top of a scene helps your readers get oriented. It also sets the tone and mood of what will unfold in the coming pages. A setting can serve as much more than a backdrop in literature. Have your scene take place somewhere that builds tension and hinders your protagonist. If you’re writing a thriller, describe a dark and foreboding place where the worst might happen. Be descriptive and use sensory details to make your setting come alive before you jump into the action.
- Use visual imagery. In screenwriting, writers have to think in pictures. What images will excite an audience at the top of a scene? Your approach should be the same when writing any kind of fiction. As you write the opening of a scene, use descriptive language to engage a reader through detailed imagery. Think like a screenwriter as you’re writing scenes.
- Drop the reader into the middle of the action. Hit the ground running by starting a great scene in media res. It doesn’t have to be a fight scene or a car chase, but physical movement creates momentum and builds tension in a story. It’s also a way to instantly engage a reader. Be sure you begin the scene before the high points of the action so you build up to the scene’s climax.
- Write a character-driven scene opener. A good scene starts by giving characters a goal. Start by putting your protagonist in a situation that creates an obstacle or opportunity for both the scene and the overarching storyline. Try starting with dialogue, like an intense conversation between your POV character and a mystery character whose identity is revealed later in the scene. If you’re writing from an omniscient third-person point of view, consider starting a scene with a secondary character, even the antagonist, and use it as a chance for deeper character development.
- Summarize past events. You might choose to use the beginning of the scene to do a quick recap of what’s brought your main character to this place and moment in time. A summary is especially helpful if you’re writing in third-person and a new scene switches to a different character. Take the opportunity to remind the reader where we left off. Instead of a straight-forward update, get creative. Go into deep POV and let a character’s thoughts provide the summary instead of the narrator. Be sure to keep this summary brief—just a line or two—so you can get back into the action.
- Introduce a plot twist. The start of a new scene is a chance to pivot and take your story in a new direction. Start a new scene at a turning point in your story. Dive into a flashback or character’s backstory, revealing critical information that changes the course of the story going forward.
- Keep the purpose of the scene in mind. Effective scenes are clear about what they set out to accomplish and how they contribute to the overall plot. They might include plot points or reveal important information needed to move a story forward. Establish your scene’s intention from the very first word and keep the rest of the scene on point.
- Rewrite until you’ve found the perfect scene opening. When you’ve finished the first draft of a scene, go back and read it through. If your scene needs something, but you can’t figure out what, it might be how the scene starts. The best way to know if your opening works is by reading how it plays with the rest of the scene. Review the last paragraph and see if it ties back to your beginning. If the intro feels weak, rewrite it. Maybe your real opener is hidden in plain sight somewhere else in the body of the scene.
- Make sure your opening scene is your strongest. While your entire book should be filled with compelling scenes that start strong, the very first scene of your book needs to lead the pack. This is the reader’s introduction to your story and where you’re revealing the characters, the setting, and kicking off the plotline with the inciting incident. This first scene has to hook the reader from the first line so they keep turning the pages.
- Read a lot of books. If this is your first novel and you need some inspiration and ideas to help you start off your scenes, start by reading other books. Choose a book by a bestselling writer like Dan Brown or Margaret Atwood. Study the different ways they approach every scene. Reading other authors is a great way to hone your scene-writing skills.
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