At Figment, we’re always looking for solutions to our writing problems. And we’re always thrilled when published authors will share some helpful advice. For instance, how do you write an opening chapter that makes a book unputdownable? Jessica Brody, author of Unremembered, has a few ideas to solve that problem. And we think you should listen to her. After all, she’s a bestselling author and she regularly teaches writing workshops.
Need one more reason? Check out Jessica’s post below and then enter the writing challenge for a chance to see your entry featured on the Figment homepage!
No matter what you’re writing, one of the most important scenes for you to nail is the opening scene. More important, that first page. It’s your fishing line. It’s what is going to reel in your reader and make them bite into your story. But you can’t catch fish without really good bait.
When I write opening scenes, I like to insert the reader right into the story. I like to drop them in the middle of what’s happening, with little or no background information, and let them figure it out on their own. This immediately makes the reader part of the action. As opposed to simply reading about the action from the sidelines. It keeps them guessing. It’s engaging. And the more you can engage the reader on page one, the more likely it is they’ll turn to page two.
Because to be honest, sometimes one page is all you get. A reader or an agent may not have time for you to “get to the action” on page 30. They may put your story down on page 10. Or page five. Or page one!
It your job, as the brilliant, savvy writer that I know you are, to make sure that doesn’t happen.
So how do you grab someone when you only have one page to do it?
First, you start in the action. Not before it. Not after it. But in it. You toss your reader into the action-packed choppy seas of your story head first . . . without a life jacket.
And then…you hide the ball.
I know you’re probably thinking, ball? What ball? Suddenly there’s a ball?
To which I reply, “Oh yes, there’s always a ball.”
The ball is the essence of the opening scene. It’s what you’re trying to get across. It’s the situation your hero is in, the problem your hero is having, the predicament your hero is trying to get out of. Don’t tell us what it is. Let us figure it out on our own. Engage the reader by giving them bits of carefully-selected information at a time.
Unremembered (the first installment in a new sci-fi suspense trilogy), my main character wakes up floating in rough, choppy water. She’s surrounded by pieces of debris and, creepily enough . . . dead bodies. She has no memory of anything that happened prior to this moment and so she has to take in her surroundings and figure out where she is and what happened. As does the reader.
It isn’t until a few pages later that you discover she’s the sole survivor of a plane crash. But you have to keep turning the pages to get there. I don’t give it away for free!
This technique doesn’t only work for sci-fi thrillers and mysteries, though. It works for every genre.
In My Life Undecided, (one of my contemporary YA comedies), I opened the story with an arrest scene. Brooklyn, my adorable, innocent (ish) 15-year-old teen character is getting put into the back seat of a cop car in the middle of the night while nosy neighbors watch from the curb. Why is she getting arrested? Well, that’s my ball. And I hid it. I focused on the action of the scene. The details of the arrest itself, and what the character is thinking and feeling as it’s happening. But I don’t show you the ball until chapter two, a few pages later. I want you to be asking the question. Because if you’re asking a question, it means you’re engaged. It means you’ll keep turning the pages until you find out.
So there you have it. Drop ‘em in, keep ‘em guessing. That’s the kind of action that keeps readers hooked. Regardless of genre or medium, you can infuse mystery, suspense and action into any story.
So go forth, get writing, and keep us turning those pages until the end.
Following Jessica’s advice, write an opening scene for a novel. Your scene should begin in the middle of the action—and there should be an unanswered question. Why is your character being chased; crying hysterically; hiding in the bathroom? It’s up to you what the “ball” is—just make sure to hide it!
Tag your story BallChallenge. The challenge runs until Monday, March 25 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Figment editors will read all the entries. Four winners will be featured on the Figment homepage.
Entries should be no more than 500 words.