The opening of any work should immediately immerse the reader into the narrative. An opening might focus primarily on character(s) and/or setting. Regardless of focus, there is a general rule of thumb when writing effective openings—in medias res—or to put it another way, just throw us right into the middle of things and give us strategic, concrete details.
Below are two narrative structures. The first more applicable to longer forms, the second from Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, more applicable to shorter forms. Notice how the longer form allows for more exposition at the start of the work where the short form, throws the reader immediately into the conflict. Though it is true that many great novels begin with a good deal of exposition, there are just as many that seem to follow the shorter form opening: throw the reader immediately into the character conflict and build the exposition along the way.
*Keep in mind that each scene within any work, long or short, follows its own similar narrative structure. So think of each scene and/or chapter as its own strategic plot contributing to the overall plot.
Opening Writing Exercise
Choose a work you’ve already written and have at least a few days away from it so that you can read it with fresh perspective. Now, read it again while looking for the moment when you feel an uptick in interest. A moment that anchors and drives you forward simultaneously. This could be for any reason: a character quirk, an extraordinary detail….
- Save your work in another document so you keep your original.
- Next, cut everything from the narrative prior to this “uptick” no matter how much, even if the uptick happens in the last paragraph of the work. Save this in another document.
- Consider how this “uptick” moment relates to the main character and one or more character crises as well as the climax. How might you further explore the concrete details within this moment so that it subtly foreshadows the longer narrative?
- As you rewrite your new opening, beginning with your “uptick” moment, consider which of your cut word count, only the essential details, are necessary to the rewrite.
- As you rewrite the narrative, you’ll want to eventually consider how your new opening echoes in the conclusion and vice versa.
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