Opening Scenes

I've been to quite a few writing classes over the years regarding how to hook your reader from the first page.

The general consensus is that something BIG has to happen right away. In fact, some presenters have gone so far as to say that your opening hook should be the moment of change for the character - the catalyst that thrusts them out of their current state.

For the most part, I bought into it, but I was never quite sure.

However, now I'm starting to seriously doubt whether this is the right approach.

Take the Hunger Games, for example. While I think she could have started it out a little faster, I think Collins did the right thing in putting the catalyst for change on page 20 rather than page 1. It's true that the first few lines didn't grab me by the throat, but we NEEDED the setup in the first chapter in order for the moment of change to MEAN something to us.

Katniss's moment of change is when Prim's name is called at the reaping. What if Collins had started her book there? We wouldn't really care. We wouldn't know what the reaping is. We wouldn't know about the tessera, the slim chance of Prim's one slip of paper being pulled out, or the fact that Kattniss's main goal in life is to protect her younger, vulnerable, sweet sister. We wouldn't know anything about what the Hunger Games are at all.

Yes, Collins could have filled that backstory in bit by bit, but by then the impact of Prim's name being called and Katniss taking her place would have been lost.

Maybe the main goal of some authors does need to be cutting out some of the fat in the first chapter, but I'm thinking I actually need to add a little more setup to my first few pages of Free Agents. We have to see the world the way it is before the change in order to understand why the change matters.

That's not to say the first line, paragraph, page, chapter should be dull backstory. No, they still need to be interesting and engaging and pull the reader in. But I think they need to be an interesting BEFORE picture. Otherwise, the AFTER picture loses much of its effect.

That's what I think, anyway. But I want to know what YOU think, too. Did Collins do the right thing by giving us a BEFORE picture? Should every book do that?


  1. Oh, I am SO with you on this one. I'm all about the "why should this matter" because when I care, when you let me care about the characters? Then it hurts and then you did your job right. =D

  2. Here's where y'all get to start throwing tomatoes. I've never read these books. Nor am I particularly inclined to do so. They just have never sounded like they'd be my cup of tea. I'm sure the author wrote them very well. And she did something right, to get so many people craving her books.

    But I do like some good setup to a book. I've read a lot of first pages lately and quite often, I just can't bring myself to care. I find myself wondering why this big event is so important.

  3. This is true. Sometimes so much focus is put on the "hook" that it ends up not matching the rest of the book. Think hard about those first 5 pages, but don't make them an adrenaline anomaly.

  4. ITA. There're plenty of books I've read where they throw me so quickly into the action that I can't find my footing--even if the book is exciting, if I don't CARE then I sometimes don't read. So yeah.

  5. Yes, yes, yes! After I read something similar in Save the Cat about seeing the "before" world in movies, it totally clicked for me - books need to be the same. We have to know enough to care about these people (and know what THEY care about) so we'll go along with them for the next 200+ pages. Awesome post, Jenn!


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