The following is a post from K.M. Weiland’s website which I have a link to in my blogroll. I came across it the other day and found it quite helpful and insightful. As I read through the list they all seemd so common sense to me but after finishing the it I went back and looked at some of my stories opening scenes and was surprised at how many of them didn’t have some of the tips below. So, I rewrote a few beginnings and they seemed more together and captivating (I hope). You’re probably a more seasoned writer than I am and have a firmer grasp on the craft of writing but it never hurts to be reminded of good writing habits.
10 Questions Your Readers Shouldn’t Have to Ask
The most important thing an author can present in the beginning of any scene is a question that will hook readers into needing to know the answer. The second most important thing is making certain that question isn’t the wrong question.
You want reader’s asking concrete questions. Who stole the Statue of Liberty? How is Westley going to escape the Pit of Despair? Why did Cinderella order glass slippers a size too large?
You don’t want them asking the dreaded four-word question: What’s going on here? Or, worse, the end-of-the-line three-letter question: Huh?
Be wary of creating what award-winning author Peter Selgin refers to as “false suspense”—the kind of suspense that has readers floundering to understand the basics of your scene, rather than forging ahead with definite and pressing questions. Following are ten questions your reader shouldn’t have to ask.
1. What is this character’s name?
Award-winning author (and one of my editors) Linda Yezak explains, “[N]ameless, faceless characters don’t usually draw readers into the story. [G]et your readers to bond with your characters early… [by letting] the reader know who they are.”
2. How old is this person?
You don’t have to spell out their age. But if you’re writing about an eighty-year-old, don’t give readers a chance to imagine he’s really only seventeen (or vice versa).
3. What does this person look like?
In some stories, you can get away without ever mentioning a thing about character appearance. But most readers like a few hints about what the character looks like—particularly if you’re going to end up describing him later in the story.
4. Who is this person?
Readers need to know something about your character, so look for a detail or two that will help them flesh him out. This could be his occupation, a prominent personality trait, or a defining action.
5. Where is this scene taking place?
Don’t leave your characters exploring The Matrix’s White Room. Readers need to know if the scene is taking place in a café, a forest, a bedroom, or an airplane.
6. What year/season/day is it?
This one is particularly important if you’re writing historical fiction, or some other kind of story in which the date is important. Orient readers with any time-sensitive info.
7. Who is this character interacting with?
If other characters are present in the scene, give readers a little help by naming them. “He” or “she” just doesn’t give readers much to work with the first time they’re introduced to a character.
8. What is the narrator’s relation to the other character(s)?
Readers should almost always know everything the narrating character does. Unless the other characters in the scene are strangers to the protagonist, fill readers in on how the narrator knows these people and what he’s doing with them in this scene.
9. What is the character trying to accomplish in this scene?
The character’s goal in any given scene is arguably the single most important bit of info to share with your readers. This is what drives your scene. This is what gives birth to those concrete questions you want readers to be asking.
10. Why should I care about any of this?
And now we reach the topper on the cake. This is the question you must answer if you want readers to keep reading. Whether the answer is curiosity, emotional investment, or sympathy, you have to supply readers a personal reason to care about finding the answers to all the rest of the questions you will present in the story.
If you can make certain you’ve satisfactorily answered all these questions (without info dumping) in the opening of your book and, to a lesser extent, in the opening of every scene to follow, you’ll free up readers’ minds to concentrate on the questions that really matter—such as the Fairy Godmother’s dispute with the Magic Shoe Company’s faulty sizing chart.
Please leave a comment if this article helped you as it did me. You can also just laugh at me for being such a newbie at the craft of writing.