Different Ways to Start a Scene: Part 1

A scene from the Drama
A scene from the Drama (Photo credit: NJ..)

Most people have a favorite way to start a scene and a chapter. One way usually comes more naturally. But variety is important for the reader and for the writer. Why is it important for you? Because different types of openings have different effects. They resume the story at different points in the stimulus – reaction – action sequence. In this way, different openings can fill different narrative needs. And experimenting with different types of openings will expand your skills as a writer.

Open with an omnipotent point of view when you need the reader to know something that is outside of the point-of-view character’s realm of experience. This could be an approaching human or natural disaster. When the reader knows about approaching danger but the viewpoint character is ignorant, the knowledge heightens tension and even tranquil action takes on a new sense Omnipotent point-of-view is also a good way to get in quick back-story that sets up the scene and maybe even introduces tension.

Open with dialogue when you want to start off fast. Dialogue moves so starting with talking means starting with movement. Better yet, start in the middle of the conflict instead of setting it up first. This will disorient readers a bit and they will read on to answer the question what’s going on? Opening with dialogue is also a quick way to establish the key characters of the scene – they are the ones talking. As a rule of thumb, have the main scene character talk first, followed by the second-most important character (usually the main character’s opponent). This establishes a hierarchy of importance for the reader, much like the way you usually start a book by introducing the main character first.

Another way to start the scene off fast is to open with action – no set up, just an action. Again, the reader will be intrigued and read on to find out the set-up. Plan your introduction of the set-up carefully since it will slow your pace. Set-up, when not given at the start of the scene, can be given in pieces or as a whole chunk. Parts can be implied. Flashback can be used (although that typically slows down the scene even more because it takes place in the past and the reader already knows how it turns out). Opening action can ground or disorient the reader. Disorientation needs to be resolved to keep reader interest after a certain point – it seldom can be continued to the end of the scene without loosing the reader.

This post is getting long (there is so much to say), so I am going to divide it into two parts. Keep tuned!

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