“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”… -Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Not a bad beginning, eh?
When we sit down to craft the opening line of our novel, I think almost all of us are aware of the golden opportunity before us. But do we realize we have small gems of opportunity at the start of each and every scene?
We should, because we do! Personally, I love it when I come to a new scene and get to shuffle through my imagination and creativity to find just the right words to kick things off.
How can we use scene-starting sentences to our advantage? Here are some ideas….
•The way you start scenes should reflect your author’s voice. My voice is modern, humorous, frank. So I like to use beginning lines that reinforce my style and the overall tone of my book. Here’s how a few of the scenes in my upcoming book begin:
“Life truth: never put on make-up in dim light.”
“On poker night, Velma showed up early to begin the women-do-all-the-work-while-the-men-sit-and-watch pre-dinner thing.”
“Near death experiences take a lot out of girl.”
•The way you start scenes should reflect the POV of your character. All of the examples in the above paragraph come from scenes written in my heroine’s POV. Here’s how a couple of my hero’s POV scenes begin:
“Matt got up the next morning, dressed warmly in work-out clothes, and set off from his house at a run.”
“Matt stood in his hotel room, scowling at his cell phone.”
See how these sentences are much more down-to-business (aka boring)? That’s because my heroes are direct, active, serious.
•The way you start scenes should reflect the mood of the section of the book. If you’re in a fast-paced and dramatic stretch, you may want to drop the reader into the scenes. You could open with dialogue. Something like:
“He’s escaped from prison?”
Or you could open with action:
“Sarah floored the gas and watched her car’s speedometer climb.”
Or you could open with a description of setting that’ll keep the reader’s suspense level high:
“She jerked awake in an unfamiliar room filled with nothing but darkness, dust, and the sound of scuttling mice.”
A few final notes…. The first line of a new scene doesn’t always have to explain the amount of time that has passed since the preceding scene. You’ll want to orient your reader by threading that information into the very early part of the scene, but you don’t have to specify it in sentence #1.
In my opinion, the best practice is to vary all of the above methods. Don’t always use a cute first sentence. Don’t always begin with dialogue. When we don’t pay attention to our first sentences, we’ll automatically revert to what’s most comfortable to us and tend to start the same way each time. Variety is the spice of life!
Happy beginnings, everyone.
Becky Wade makes her home in Dallas, Texas with her husband, three young children, and one adoring (and adored) cavalier spaniel. Her first contemporary romance for the CBA, My Stubborn Heart, will be released by Bethany House in May.