I’m a sucker for writing openings. I enjoy them so much, I have one written for almost all of my planned titles in SoMES.
You can imagine my surprise on hearing some writers dread writing openings. I have come across quite a few.
I’d like to credit Hayao Miyazaki, of Studio Ghibli, for instilling in me the wondrous joy of a good opening. I grew up on his films and each one, large and small, fantastic or seemingly mundane, had an opening that pulled me in.
**As an aside, I didn’t understand why people my age later complained about the lack of strong female characters in films of their upbringing. Perhaps they only watched Disney. From the age of 10, I was (and remain) a lover of all things Japanese. I sought out so much anime and stumbled upon Studio Ghibli before it became a little more mainstream in the USA. If you have children and want to show them some amazing role models of both sexes, and healthy friendships and relationships, I strongly recommend.**
Those openings varied from a man battling a deity-turned-demon, a girl leaving home for an adventure, a family moving into a new house in the countryside, and a young woman plummeting from an airship– tumbling, unconscious, through the clouds until a mysterious pendant around her neck came to life and slowed her speed.
There was action and there was calm. No formula, only whimsy.
Miyazaki had a huge influence on my imagination and how it developed, so I suppose, on reflection, there’s a reason why my openings are as varied as his. Yet each attempts to bring with it a sense of wonder.
- A young woman flees her home in the middle of the night, racing through the burning city before taking refuge in a fortress atop a jagged mountain ridge.
- Two small boys crawl across a field, having snuck from their chambers to watch new recruits train for combat. The older is sociable and confident, while the younger more anxious and ill-at-ease.
- A girl of 7 chokes on ash and smoke, pounding her fists against the door of her home as flames lick higher. With the help of a friend outside, she breaks a window and scrambles to safety– only to find most of her village also alight.
- Traveling alone through the mountains, a man leaves his old life behind to seek new purpose and belonging in the place of his birth. But when someone picks a fight over his identity, he’s all too happy to oblige.
That’s just a sample… As you can see, I love writing openings. Some are calm and simple while others fling you into the action.
Perhaps the answer, if you loathe and struggle with them, is to look at your work with that same sense of wonder. Think back to something that grabbed you and didn’t let go (can be a book, film, tv show, comic– anything). What contributed to the wider mood of the scene? How can you transfer that excitement and whimsy to a reader?
It may be easier than you think, especially if we disconnect, momentarily, from all the well-meaning advice about hooks and ticking boxes in x opening pages or paragraphs (or words!). All the ‘do this, don’t do that.’
Clear your mind of all that built-up craft research and advice battling in your brain and strip it back to basics: the pleasure and joy of being wrapped in a new story. Sink yourself into your ideal opening scene and put it into words. Apply the craft knowledge afterwards to make it stronger.