Opening with Action

- by ria, on Wednesday, 13th October 2010, 5:16pm

I have had problems with my opening scene since I wrote it. Until now, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. I knew that it wasn’t good enough, and that was all. I read back over it today (looking for inspiration for my query letter) and I realised that the opening scene is utterly stagnant. Nothing at all happens. There is no action.

Make Things Happen

This is my personal preference but, I love books that open with action. I can’t stand a lengthy description where nothing at all is happening*. An opening that shows the main character dealing with a serious problem lets readers see his personality so much better. They instantly feel like they can relate (or not) to your main character based on the way he reacts and deals with the situation.

Now, I’m not saying open with a battle or a deadly fight. You can, but when I say action, I mean anything at all that brings the plot forward in time.


Your character is in a situation, say someone has just broken into his home. In a static opening, your character will stay where they are but he might look around, listen to the noises around him, and think about someone invading his privacy. He might also think about the people he knows, and try to figure out why this is happening. Has someone he knows let themselves into his house?

All this is fine, but all of it together at the start of a book is a bit much. There’s probably not going to be enough to keep a reader interested.

Take the same opening and straight away move your character from where he is. Immediately time comes into play and it feels like the plot is moving forward. This is what you want. You want readers to get a sense that something is happening. If you open with action, you have your character move through the house and confront whoever has broken in. Or, have him flee in fear. He should react as is appropriate for his character, but he should do something.

Things happen in Time

Time is the key to action. If you ask yourself, ‘Does time move forward in this scene?’ and if the answer is, ‘Yes,’ then you should have a scene that contains action. The only time this might not be true is if you have a montage kind of thing where you are showing time passing, but very little is happening.

Thoughts and description don’t happen in time. All thoughts and description stop the story. And you don’t want to start your book being stopped. Start in full sprint and you’ll have a better chance of catching your readers up in your momentum.

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*except the opening to the Belgariad, where Eddings is going on about Garion’s childhood – I like that opening. But that opening is so chock full of emotion and description it’s hard not to like it.

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category: writing

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