The opening pages are not just about making the story exciting, dramatic, edgy, or full of action. It’s not just about setting the scene. It’s also, and I dare say, chiefly about getting to know your main character. It’s about helping readers “connect” with your main character on a deeper level so that readers see a real person with real desires and real feelings. I would also dare to say I consider this the secret sauce to openings.
How do you help readers connect? Three things:
#1 - By showing readers what the character wants most. Showing what they want helps readers connect because everyone wants something. Everyone can relate to a character who wants something so desperately that they will do whatever it takes to get it.
Some characters may not know what they want, but they know something is missing from their lives. How do they know? Because they’re not happy. Even though the character may not know what's missing, or even that something is missing, readers should still get a sense of this in the way the character acts, the way they feel, through their actions and via their dialogue based on what happens in their normal day-to-day life.
#2 – By showing readers “why” they want what they want so badly. There must be a compelling and realistic reason why they want what they want. Show what that reason is and for the biggest impact, make it an emotional why (I always say this, but DIG DEEP). YOU as a writer want something – and there are reasons why you want it (internal reasons), it’s the same for your character.
#3 – By showing readers their fear, flaw, misbelief, or wound. This is directly related to how the main character will transform by the end. But readers need to know what this is in the opening scene so that they can track how the character will change by the end of the story. Readers want to see how characters handle their stressor and they want to see the character overcome it and transform by the end.
Tip: Read the opening pages of your favorite books. See if you can find what the character wants, why they want it, and the stressor they'll have to work on before they can get what they want at the end of the story.
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