The Craft of Writing

Save the Cat: The Opening Image

One thing I have always struggled with is how on earth to write a good opening. I’ve spent years reading and analyzing stories and still struggled to understand exactly what made the opening of a book a good one. 

Enter Save the Cat! Writes a Novel aka my new best friend. The book somehow puts into words exactly what I was thinking but couldn’t articulate, so I’m going to let it help me talk about openings now. 

The opening of your story should, first and foremost, give your reader an idea of what they’re in for. Have you ever read a story where the first chapter was suspenseful and then the book was a rom-com? Because I wrote one of those once and it didn’t go well.

Now that we know that first chapter needs to give the readers an idea of what the book will be like., there are some things to think about when writing your opening: 

  1. Who is the main character and what is/are their flaw(s)?
  2. What kind of tone will the book have (happy, sad, suspenseful, fantastical, light, heavy, etc.)?
  3. What is it about your character or the journey they’re about to go on that will be interesting to your readers? 

Once we’ve thought about that, all that’s left to do is to decide when we are going to open the book. What kind of first chapter should you have? Well, according to Save the Cat, the most important thing to remember is that your first chapter should be an opening image. Which means something is going on (dialogue, action, etc.) rather than a large amount of information or introspection. 

If you’re like me, you start to wonder why you always thought books should start with information, and then you look back at all the books you thought were great and realize none of them start with that information you always thought so necessary. So then, if you are me, you swing too far in the other direction and start the story RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF EVERYTHING because stuff is definitely happening then, right? 

Yes, that’s true, but it’s also not always the best place to start the story. With my newest novel, I think I found the happy spot between way too much backstory and RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE and it’s the opening image.

So this time, I happily started when something interesting is going on in my MC’s life that makes me want to know more about her, but that something isn’t the inciting incident. Meaning, we get to see a snippet of what the book will hold but also get a glimpse of what her life is like before everything goes haywire. 

So if you can’t figure out where to open your story, the advice I took away from the book is this. First, think of your character and their main flaw (or flaws). Second, think of their normal life before the book started. What are some times that flaw (or flaws) might really show up? And third, pick the situation that works best for your novel. That’s it! That’s all it took to vastly improve my openings! 

I still have a lot to learn, though, I’m sure. And since my next story is a mystery/thriller mixed in with a romance (sorry, I can’t help myself), I’m going to take a look specifically at mystery/thriller openings over the next couple of weeks. I hope I will learn some useful things I can share with you all. 

Happy Reading, 

Do you have an opening you really love? Or a way to find the beginning of your story that works every time? I’d love to hear from you!

If you’re interested, you can find more posts about the craft of writing here and other posts about Save the Cat Writes a Novel here.

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