How does your novel open?
My YA Paranormal novel opens in the hallway of a High School. Unfortunately, this is apparently a cliche, right up there with getting ready for school in the bedroom/bathroom, having a car crash, dream sequence, waking up, regaining consciousness, or weather of any kind.
An argument commenced in my head about how my cliche was different from other cliches and that my cliche was necessary and truly the only and best way to open the story. After all, it had all the other correct elements:
- Start with action
- Start with your MC making an important choice that foreshadows/hints at the main conflict
- Start with interactions of your MC with other charcters, so we see their character through action/dialogue
- Don't introduce your MC's love interest too early
- Don't have too much backstory
- Have a strong opening line
Except for one ...
- Start your character in a setting that defines who they are
The argumentative side of me, the part that doesn't like to be wrong, continued to lobby for the hallway: But it does define who she is, she's a high school student after all.
Yeah. Right. If that was her major characteristic, we'd be writing a whole different kind of story (my arguing side and myself).
So I went and looked at the opening scenes of novels I had recently read (and admired) and one I didn't (admire).
Behemoth: Starts with a fencing duel between the two MC's, who continue to duel (figuratively) throughout the story
The White Cat: Starts in mortal danger on the top of a roof, which presages the danger his abilities cause him
Paranormalcy: Starts with her killing a vampire, because she's sort of a Buffy-the-Vampire slayer type. But in pink.
Uglies: Starts with her creeping through the bushes to illegally break into Pretty Town.
AND THE ONE I DIDN'T LIKE: Starts in the High School hallway.
Gah! I hate being wrong.
So, the opening is going to have to change. And I'm slowly, grumblingly, adverbly deciding that it's a good thing. It is forcing me to stretch to define who my character is, what my story is, and how can that all be artfully captured in an opening scene that will intrigue and pull in the reader?
Note that none of the examples above starts with the main conflict, but they all reflect an aspect of the main conflict, which is revealed later on. I think that's important, because I think there is too much advice out there about openings that say Start with the conflict! Throw your character in media res! I think we need to know who our character is before the main conflict, else we won't give a switch how much trouble they're in when it arrives. But starting with some conflict, one that hints at the true conflict, is artful indeed. As Richard Peck says, "The first chapter is the last chapter in disguise."
So, yeah. I can do this. But it may make my brain hurt for a little while.
How do you decide how to start your novel?