Writing a Gripping Opening Scene

Yesterday I purchased a book called Writing a Killer Thriller by Jodie Renner and read it in one sitting. Yes, it’s a short book, but it’s also riveting. I bought a digital copy and spent several minutes figuring out how to highlight all the good stuff. Unfortunately, there are several pages that are mostly all highlights. I want to share some of those highlights with you. It’s worth the $2.99 to purchase it for your resource library, so go pick it up. I’ll wait.

Image(image courtesy of Amazon.com)

Now that you’re back, let’s dig in. The first couple of chapters dealt with creating an awesome hero and an equally awesome opponent (sometimes referred to as an antagonist). I’m starting in chapter 4 because that’s where I found the most excellent and pertinent information. It’s about crafting a killer opening. Jodie begins by saying that a killer opening, the first couple of paragraphs, need to suck the reader in and make sure they can’t put the book down. They need to be so engaged emotionally that they not only want to continue, but the need to continue. 

It starts with who the reader is supposed to cheer for. Who is the protagonist, where and when the story takes place, and what’s going on at the moment. All this should be SHOWN (as opposed to telling) with “tension, dialogue, actions, and reactions.” By starting in the hero’s head (POV), the reader gets pulled in.

The opening paragraphs also need to set the tone and mood so there are no surprises later on. It’s not fair to begin a comedic romance story with a gory murder; nor is it right to begin a horror story with a light sunny day at the carnival–unless that’s followed by a gory murder. Play fair with the reader and set them up for the story to come.

Don’t waste your opening with “long, meandering descriptive passages about the scenery or weather, or with a character waking up in the morning thinking about his life.” And whatever else you do, DON’T tell. This is not the time for backstory, either.

Finally, upset your hero’s world within that first chapter. “Show something or someone threatening either him or others close to them, or other, innocent people. Force your hero to make some difficult, even agonizing decisions. And keep us in his head so we feel his worries or fear or anger or confusion, followed hopefully by strategizing, courage and determination.”

Did you find something useful in here? Open one of your stories and see if your opening pages follow these rules. If not, see if you can figure out how to alter your opening scenes so the reader needs to turn the page. Then come back next time when I’ll discuss inciting incidents.


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