Act 1-Scene 1
There are usually three acts to each novel. Act one includes the opening scene, stating the theme, setting up what might happen, the incident prompting action, and the question your hero must ponder—What am I going to do? This article covers the opening scene only. Stay tuned for the other parts of Act 1.
The opening scene is the first plot point of your novel. It shows what your hero and their world are like before their journey starts. At minimum, you need to describe your hero’s personality. Right now, there is a trend to keep physical descriptions of the main character hidden, to let the reader picture themselves or someone like them as the hero. If you want to go that route, that’s fine, but you need to display how your reader thinks and feels about themselves, those around them, and their lot in life. Your reader needs to feel an emotional connection with your hero. You can make them like them or hate them, but there needs to be a connection of some kind.
Let’s say your hero is a cab driver that lives in a small, dingy apartment in a big city. There are many ways to begin your novel. You can from the narrator’s perspective, describing the city, then your hero’s neighborhood, apartment building and then the apartment itself. Or you can start with the inside of the apartment first and gradually describe the neighborhood as they venture out. It is always your choice.
Taking the cab driver example, I’m going to give it a shot.
John adjusted the pillow behind his head on his used couch to get more comfortable. The duct tape holding the cushion at his feet together always annoyed him more than the many other tears in the red-gold velveteen fabric. He sipped his cheap beer and grabbed the remote, grunting with the effort. After driving annoying people around in his cab all day, he was looking forward to watching the Wales vs. England soccer game. Clicking the on button, his tv sparked to life then immediately went black.
“You’ve got to be kidding me?” John yelled. His voice carried through the entire 100 square feet of his studio apartment and through the thin peeling walls.
“Shut up!” came the response from his neighbor, Mr. Grimely.
They, along with around 30 other people, lived in the run-down, 60s apartment building owned by some rich slum lord none of them had ever seen or spoken to. The building sat squat between two taller buildings in better, but not much better, condition. Surrounding this tiny group of buildings was the poorest neighborhood in the big city of Jackson.
Jackson thrived during the boom of the auto industry and quickly died after the conversion to electric cars. Poverty was high, homelessness was high, but in the past ten years, the financial section of the city center was attracting business and lawyers.
John had a particular distaste for lawyers. They were his rudest customers.
In this quickly written example, so no judgements please, I let my reader know John was poor, annoyed with his life, lived in a tiny apartment, where in the city he lived, the basics of what the city was like and brought it back to reveal more about John.
Some of you may be asking, where is the hook? The hook doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t have to be in the introductory paragraphs. However, it will need to be presented soon. Just not in this example, not today.
What is your novel’s opening scene?