Friday, August 12, 2011

Opening Your Story With a (Subtle) Bang

For the last two weeks, we've been talking about movies and their relation (or lack thereof) to novel writing. There's no arguing that a well done movie does something we all want in our own story telling, and that's to capture the viewers/readers attention.

Part of what makes movies so powerful is that visual bang, like those amazing action scenes that keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

But since I'm a big fan of romance, not all the movies I watch have those fast-paced action scenes in them at all, let alone at the beginning. Many of them do, however, have a more subtle but just as powerful way of drawing viewers in.

A great example of this is the movie P.S. I Love You. For those of you who have seen this movie, you know that the characters are crafted in a very engaging way and the opening scene sets a good pace for the movie. And for those of you who have never seen the movie, it is definitely one of those that uses well-crafted characters in a creative and relatable scene to make the viewers want to watch more.

In that opening scene, man and wife begin in an argument (which we don't know the cause of instantaneously, though it does unfold quickly), and showcase their personalities by arguing their side of the story. They end up making up and all is well, at least for that moment.

Sounds simple, right? No superheroes or car chases, no daredevils jumping off a bridge or bank robbers trying to make a clean getaway. No, this is one of the simplest scenes you could open a movie (or book) with, and yet it works.

How does this opening engage viewers?

1) It makes you ask questions (what's going on? why are they arguing? etc)
2) It introduces an immediate conflict
3) It showcases interesting characters
4) It drops in some humor
5) It makes viewers want more

And all this with a simple opening scene. Sure, humor isn't absolutely necessary, and you don't have to leave out the action either. But there are a few questions to ask yourself based off the success of this opening scene about your own novel.

1) Are you making your reader ask questions about where the story is going or what the characters are going through?
2) Do your readers feel for the character(s)? Can they relate to them and even better, sympathize with them?
3) Is there an obvious, even if simple to begin with, conflict?
4) Do your readers want to continue reading the story?

Even if your story doesn't fit all the criteria, keep them in mind during your edit. Tweaking a few things, using the less is more mentality, and getting a critique partners take on your opening pages can be just enough to draw more people to your story.

How does your opening scene compare to the one mentioned above? Do you have a gripping action scene or is it more subtle, and how did you make it effective?


Laura S. said...

That's a cute movie, but I can never watch it again. It was too sad!

Terrific example of an engaging beginning. I'll be asking those questions of my wip's beginning right now!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Okay, this is good. The other night my husband asked to hear the first chapter of my book out on submission. I worried because he pretty much vowed never to read women's fiction (and besides I have a hard enough time getting him to read The Kite Runner, The Book Thief or any other book I've noticed men also like).

But the one thing he did when I finished was ask a question and then (whew...good man) he said I'd read on. I want to know what happens to her.

Moral of the story. If I can get my husband to read women's fiction, then maybe I am doing something right. :D :D

~ Wendy

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi, Laura, yeah the movie is really sad despite the funny parts, but much of it was very engaging. I hope the questions help with your WIP.

Wendy, that's great! One of the most helpful things is having another person read your work and give you an objective opinion. If your hubby wanted to read on, you're doing good :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Cindy, I'm embarassed to say I haven't seen most of these movies. This one sounds great.

In answers to your questions I hope so. Speaking of great opening lines...I loved reading Sarah's recently :)

I love beginnings with tension, acction & emotion!! Sounds like a winner.

Casey said...

I've never seen this movie, but you have me intrigued, even though you said it's sad and I don't really like sad movies. They stick with me too long. :)

But great questions to ask of our novels and some of my biggest wories. Thanks Cindy!

Beth K. Vogt said...

I love romance movies, but I haven't watched this one. It sounds too, too sad. My oldest daughter came home from watching it and said she cried and cried and cried.
Whoa. That's a recommendation ...
I'm going to take your 4 questions and attack my opening scene with them. (I mean that in a nice way, of course.)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I agree, Julia - action, emotion and especially tension. Doesn't get much better than that.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Casey, it is sad and it's one of those that can stick with you for sure. But definitely a great example of how you want to grab viewers or readers from the beginning.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Beth, your comment made me smile. I like how you put that, attacking your opening scene. We have to be aggressive with those because we only have that one chance to capture the reader.

Pepper said...

Cute, Cindy
We 'close' our Blockbuster series with a post about 'opening scenes' :-)
AND the title of the movie is P.S. I Love You
Fitting, don't you think?

I really enjoyed watching this movie- and yes, it's a tear jerker, but it's one I can handle because the story ends with hope.

I loved your 'checklist' of story starters. I love beginning a novel. It's the middle that cuases all the trouble. :-)
(You realize I said I enjoy beginning them - it doesn't mean I've done all the things on your I'm gonna go check ;-)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Definitely fitting, Pepper :) And I agree about the middle of the story, it gets me every time!

Krista Phillips said...

Me and this movie have an extreme love/hate relationship. I pretty close to sobbed in the movie theater. AND THAT IS TOTALLY NOT LIKE ME. I looked over and even my husband had his face in an uncomfortable expression and I'm pretty sure pressed a finger to his eye on more than one occassion.


It had a happy ending. So it redeemed itself, as usually I am an ANTI sad movie person.

Not sure I'll watch it again. But I definitely don't regret watching it the first time, and high recommend it to those who like romance movies.

ENough about the movie though. The questions are GREAT, Cindy, and right on! WELL DONE!