Torn between two opening scenes.

I've been working on an urban fantasy serial with a teen MC and up until recently I was set on starting with a bang. This resulted in an opening scene with a whole lot of running, tension and a glimpse of the character's perspective on life. The MC's thought pattern is arguably grim but I kinda like that it starts in media res. It has this sense of urgency that could make the reader wonder what the MC is running from. Of course, I also have to face the possibility that this could be a big honking cliche. Sigh. And did I mention the angst?

The other opening scene I wrote is a slower in terms of pacing and arguably does not offer as much insight into the character. I'm thinking this dials down the angst a little bit, but there's also not a whole lot going on. It has a creepier vibe than the first opening, though.

I'm torn.

is it an action book throughout, or is it more cerebral? open the way that better matches the rest of the book.

My belief is that a work's opening should be enough to answer the question "Why now? Why is this where the story teller starts?" Do that and you're golden.

Is this a traditional novel or a web one? If it's going to be a traditional novel you also want to consider that publishers (if you go traditional) will want to see one of: First 30 pages, First Chapter, First 3 Chapters, First 90 pages. I'm not sure how that helps except to be sure that at the end of those benchmarks you've got something that will make an agent/ publisher want to read more.

Generally speaking, popular opinion, critics and publishers don't want a slow start. They want something high impact that can grab attention in the first few seconds/minutes of reading.

On the popular opinion front I had a student read the first line of Bastion and then throw it back at me in disgust. "'She was cold'?" he quoted. "Who the heck is she and why do I give a flying fish that she was cold? I see no reason to read even another sentence."

of course.... he could have just been obtuse too. He's like that.

see, thats a hook line. The POINT is to make a person wonder, who is she, why is she cold, what events led to this. uncomfortable cold, or shivering blue icicle hanging from her nostril cold? You read to answer those questions. So I would say so obtuse he came back around again and was acute.

I plan on releasing it as a web serial with a new chapter each week but I'm also aiming for publisher standards since they seem to know what readers are looking for.

Right now I'm leaning on the first opening only because I feel it accomplishes a lot more than the second one. At the same time it's lacking in certain areas that the second opening does better. Here's a little list to highlight the differences between the two (with my thoughts and concerns in parentheses):


1. Reveals MC's perspective on life/death (Too soon? Too morbid? Possibly relatable?)

2. Conflict is acknowledged but not specified (Could lead to whats, whys and hows)

3. Establishes the setting

4. Action (Character on the run that could also lead to whats, whys and hows)


1. Introduces conflict (Could lead to whys and hows but the "what" is already answered)

2. Almost cryptic description of a pivotal supernatural entity from the MC's point of view.

3. No action but sets the tone (MC narrates in the first person)

The story itself is not heavy on the action but it'll have its fair share of action scenes, if that makes sense. This is why I feel either one could work. I'm just worried that the first opening might rub the reader the wrong way. The MC is basically running through a field and badly hurt. What he's running from is not specified but alluded to.

Could this work or has this been done too many times already?

You almost always want to come out swinging.

Also, you put "Torn Between Two Lovers" in my head, and I can't get it out

Openings are all about questions. You should be setting up lots of questions in your reader's mind, which your story will go on to answer (while often raising new/further questions, but that's a different discussion). It sets up expectations, both that those questions will be answered (it's very annoying when they're not!) and for the tone of the story.

This is your chance to make your reader want more, to want answers. To throw them into your world and make them want to stay there.

There's nothing wrong with the 'drop them into an action scene' starter - it's often-used for a good reason (personally, I love them). If you're worried about not being unique enough, think about what makes your story different to others like this and use those things in the scene. Read other action openings to see what they do, and see how you can make yours stand out. If it's first person, the voice of the character will usually handle a lot of this for you!

You could also, if you wanted, offer the second opening as an 'alternate opening' on the web serial and ask readers which they prefer. But you might want to do that down the track, when they know what the opening is leading into.

Good luck!

Remember that 'action' doesn't necessitate EXPLOSIONS AND EXCITEMENT. Set the scene (without - or with little - exposition) and pose some questions. Think of the overall narrative and themes, and try to encapsulate them in a page. Better yet, go read lots of first pages/chapters and get a feel for different variations.

Generally you want to draw someone in. Not always sure it's just about action, but having an interest in what's happening in that snippet you provide.

The bigger question for me is how do each of these openings end? (Where do you leave us as a reader? Do both leave you at an uncomfortable pause where the reader feels they need to know more?)

And then of course, what comes after each of these openings? Are they leading down the same series of next chapters or installments? If no, then which has a more compelling pathway?

Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

I have finally made my choice and will be wrapping up the first chapter soon. It did help to know which opening would lead to a more interesting path and whether or not it was consistent with the main theme. I'll wait until I'm ready to begin posting before letting you all know which one I picked. ;)