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Two years ago, a scientific disaster caused the Earth to stop moving through the sky. Now it sits motionless in space. On the surface of the planet, one half is stuck as a winters day. The other half is a perpetual summer evening

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The world is in a zombie apocalypse. There are very few humans remaining on the planet, and your best friend has recently converted to the undead. Through sheer coincidence, you discover that when a zombie eats a human brain, it turns them human again. With this knowledge, you set out on a journey with your zombie best friend to try and convert them back to normal.

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When a child is born, their past soul is slowly overwritten as new experiences are added to the multitude of lives that the soul has experienced. Up until age 5, children experience Night Terrors are when the past soul is trying to assert itself over the child and is fighting with the new personality that the child is developing.

You’ve just woken up your child from a nightmare.

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All children are born with qualities based off their zodiac. Parents will celebrate the birth of a Virgo daughter, forever beautiful and pure, or the birth a brave, confident Leo. Other parents lament at their Aquarius children, forever cursed to carry around a bucket of water. Write about a couple anticipating their first child.

As empty-headed as a globe.

As empty-headed as a globe.

‘Whatever we want,’ I say.

‘Whatever we want,’ I say.

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You have acquired the ability to understand and speak all languages. The problem is, you have the google translate version of the power, with little regard for grammar or nuance.

Help please. How does one start a Dragons!AU fanfiction? I got the other details (like the character and setting) just fine but I just can’t find the correct scene or approach on the first chapter. Thank you very much.

Act One, Scene One (or Choosing an Effective Starting Point)

The one potential advantage you have with fan fiction is that you don’t have to lay the groundwork as much in the opening scene. Readers will already be familiar with your characters and settings. The only backstory you may have to provide is enough to inform your reader at what point in canon your story occurs. If the story is an AU, or non-canon, then you’ll probably need to add more details to explain this so a reader knows what to expect.

Apart from this, I think the idea of first scenes applies to all types of stories, fan fiction included, so I’m going to generalize this to cover all opening sequences.

Choosing Your Starting Point

We all know the pressures of that first chapter. I attended a panel earlier this year where agents and editors listened to readings of the first page of a novel and raised their hands when they would stop reading. It was astounding how quick they were to give up on each work! I think the average reader is a bit more patient than paid readers, since their time does not equal money, but the same principle applies. You need to engage readers from the beginning if you want to keep them invested.

To simplify this process, we’re going to start wide and slowly narrow to that precise moment.

Step One: Fix Your Mindset

I could do a whole post on ignoring structure and just getting the story written. I could say that you should choose your opening scene later once you’ve drafted a good portion of the story. However, I do not think that advice would help my anon since they’re writing fan fiction, which isn’t typically written in drafts. I also think at some point, you do have to worry about structure.

Nonetheless, you shouldn’t enter into any outline or first draft with that first scene carrying so much weight. It simply needs to exist so you can move on to later chapters. When the story is more developed, the opening chapter might be clearer to you. It’s okay to start the process of writing a story with a flimsy first scene. You can find that sweet spot in later drafts.

Step Two: Choose a Point on the Timeline

A good plot includes far more than the opening line and “the end.” There will be events that happened before chapter one, and maybe even events that will happen after the final sentence. A novel isn’t necessarily a complete story from beginning to end – it’s a snapshot of the most important, most interesting part of something’s life, whether that’s a character, a monster, a story universe, ect.

Maybe you already know what point in your timeline you’re going to begin, but if you don’t, start there. Write out everything you know about your characters and your plot and decide which portions of this are going to be backstory and which portions will occur in real time. Once you’ve chosen that point, you’re one step closer to narrowing your focus.

Step Three: Choose a Character to Start With

This character doesn’t have to be the protagonist, but I strongly recommend it. When we start reading novels, we latch onto the first character we meet. If the character is engaging, we dig deeper. If they’re not, we let go. Likewise, if the character dies in chapter one, we let go.

This was one thing that bothered me about how Leigh Bardugo began Six of Crows. The first chapter reveals a POV character, and at the end of that chapter, we’re done with that character. We get a small detail late in the novel that reveals that character’s fate, but it was kind of like a “gotcha” moment. It put me on shaky ground for chapter two, and I was slower to sink my talons into Inej’s perspective (who is actually a protagonist).

I don’t like investing my energy in chapter one into a character that I have no reason to care about. An exception to this could be changing the “chapter one” heading to “prologue.” We have less character expectations for prologues and tend to assume that a character introduced in a prologue is not necessarily a protagonist – they’re simply involved in an important event of the story.

Prologues are honestly a topic of great debate, and I won’t offer my opinion one way or the other in this post, but when it comes to choosing the star character of your opening scene, I highly recommend you make that character an important one.

Step Four: The Perfect Moment

Okay, we know the general point of the timeline, and we know which character we’re going to introduce first. Now, we need to find that sweet spot. A good opening scene will do several things:

  • Introduce a main character
  • Show the status quo
  • Present a short-term problem
  • Hint at a greater problem

A popular way to start a novel is by showing the “status quo” of the world you’ve created and showing a typical problem within that status quo. This is what I mean by “short-term” problem – it’s a problem that your character faces on a regular basis and they’re solving it like they normally would (with some possible hiccups along the way). For the character, this might be routine, but for us, it’s new. We’re learning about this character and their world in an exciting and suspenseful way.

I just started rereading Red Rising by Pierce Brown, and this novel does an excellent job of showcasing this. Our main character Darrow is shown mining in the dangerous depths of Mars, solving a problem when he runs into a potential gas pocket. This particular moment does not define the story’s later conflict, but it shows us what Darrow’s routine looks like in an “exciting and suspenseful” way. The author shows us the status quote and presents a short-term problem.

Brown also hints at a greater problem in this opening scene by briefly describing the conditions that Darrow’s peers work in and how much they compete for rations. The hierarchy in this universe becomes hugely important later on, so it’s a detail that begins to set up the later conflict.

Step Five: Don’t Make It Complicated

If your reader needs five pages of backstory to understand what’s going on in your opening scene, then it’s not a good moment. It’s possible that you’re overthinking how much your reader actually needs to know, and it’s also possible that you’ve chosen a moment too far into the timeline. If you’re in a position to have your first scene critiqued, experiment by eliminating most of the backstory from your draft. Have someone read it and ask them what points were confusing. That’ll help you decide which details are absolutely necessary.

This isn’t the only way to choose an opening scene, but it’s a popular method that should help you start your story off with a bang.

Good luck!

-Rebekah

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As punishment, the gods make you the ward of the newest among them. They have the mental maturity of a twelve year old, the strength of five hundred men, and the knowledge collective knowledge of three thousand years of human history. Write about the chaos that ensues.