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Starting Your Story, Your Scenes, and Your Chapters.

Part 1 of the Strengthening Your Fiction Series

By Rachel CarringtonPublished 3 years ago 5 min read
Starting Your Story, Your Scenes, and Your Chapters.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

How many times have you opened a book and read a stale first line that talks about the surroundings, the weather, or some other issue that really doesn’t make much difference to the plot?

You have one chance to catch a reader’s attention when they open your book. You do that with your first line and keep their attention with the first line of subsequent scenes and chapters. A powerful opening is one that pulls a reader in and won’t let them stop reading.

Years ago, when I first started writing, I didn’t know anything about drawing a reader in, and my first lines were evidence of my lack of knowledge. Let’s take a look at two examples from manuscripts I wrote back in the 1990s. (The books have not been published.)

Kate had a long day, and she wanted nothing more than to relax with a glass of wine and a long, hot bath. This opening line does nothing beyond introducing the reader to a character. At this point, readers don’t even know if she’s a main character. I didn’t give them a reason to keep reading because we all get tired and want a hot bath. It’s certainly nothing to get excited about in a book.

Carrie drummed her fingernails on the dash while she waited outside the liquor store. This one is mildly more interesting because a reader might wonder why Carrie is waiting outside a liquor store, but it doesn’t stand up to the “keep reading” test. If a reader has to make a decision to keep reading this book or to read another one with a snappier start, which one do you think will be chosen?

Now let's have a look at some stronger titles. (One is mine.)

I wanted to punch a hole in the sky, rip it open, and fly out of this world and into a magical one. ~Grasping at Eternity by Karen Amanda Hooper This is a magical start to a magical book. Obviously, the character is unhappy, but why? And what an imagination that character has. It makes you want to know more about that person.

Today is the five-year anniversary of my death. ~Share Our Souls by Rachel Carrington This character is obviously dead so how is she sharing this information with the readers? Is she a ghost? An angel? One thing is obvious: the character is keeping track of the day she died, and that makes a reader ask why.

Six foster homes in one year had to be some kind of record. ~Beautiful Demons by Sarra Cannon This brings all sorts of questions to light. Why so many foster homes in one year? Is the character troubled? Why does the state keep shipping her from home to home? Why not just leave her in an orphanage? And why isn’t she wanted?

I understood why she wanted to kill me. ~Hidden by M. Lathan A line like this opens the door to a reader’s imagination. Who is the woman who wants to kill this character? What did the character do that was so bad they understand why someone would want to kill them? Do they think they deserve death? Questions keep a reader guessing which keeps them reading.

I will live to hurt you. ~End Game by Lisa Renee Jones This isn’t just an opening line; it’s a vow. Any reader will want to know who’s saying it, why they’re saying it, and who they’re talking to. They’ll also want to know if the character keeps the vow which means they’ll keep reading.

I’m sure it’s easy to see the impact the powerful openings make and why you would want to keep reading those books versus the lackluster ones. But even a boring start can be changed around to snag a reader’s attention.

Rewriting Boring Openings

Let’s go back to the first two lines from my older manuscripts.

Kate had a long day, and she wanted nothing more than to relax with a glass of wine and a long, hot bath. Why did she have a long day? What happened that made her so exhausted? Did anything out of the ordinary happen? Or maybe the focus needs to be on what happens when she gets home. She wants nothing more than a glass of wine and a hot bath, but she arrives home to find her front door standing wide open or maybe there’s a police car in her driveway.

As you’re re-writing your opening line, think about the context of the scene. For this one, I could change the opening line several ways:

Police cars lined her driveway when Kate arrived home, chasing away all thoughts of a relaxing evening.

Kate dragged herself up the steps to her house, still clinging to the pamphlet the funeral director had given her.

Her brother had stopped by long enough to steal what wasn’t nailed down and to leave her front door standing wide open.

Carrie drummed her fingernails on the dash while she waited outside the liquor store.

Again, we go back to questioning the context of the scene. Why was Carrie waiting outside the liquor store? She’s drumming her fingernails. Is she nervous or irritated? Was she waiting for someone or waiting to make a move? Perhaps she’s there to rob the store.

With those questions in mind, the opening line can be changed to:

The gun felt heavy against her waist as Carrie waited outside the liquor store.

She’d promised her family, her friends, everyone, that she’d end things with Johnny, and yet, here she sat, waiting for him outside his favorite liquor store.

Ten bucks and a bottle of liquor was the going price for an informant nowadays.

Impactful lines tell the reader this is a story to continue reading. It motivates them to want to know more about the character involved in this situation, whatever it may be.

But, however strongly you begin your first chapter, you should remember that the openings for your scenes and chapters should follow suit. The last thing you want to do is get your readers excited only to let them down when you write about the mundane in the next scene.


About the Creator

Rachel Carrington

I'm an avid writer and reader. I've had over 53 novels published and over 2,000 articles. Here I review movies, TV series/episodes, books, and write about entertainment.

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