Write Killer Opening Scenes — Tips by Suspense-Thriller Author Jeff Buick

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© Jeff Buick

Fred E. Whyte

Writer @ GoneWithTheWord

Your opening scenes hook the reader instantly and give a sense of the ride on which they are about to embark. How do you figure out where and how to start each book and what actions or metaphors would pack the best punch?

JB:  I often start a book with a prologue, and there’s a very good reason for it. The prologue can be simmering with suspense or an action-packed scene that leaves the reader wondering what just happened and how it will fit into the book. They dive into Chapter One and the pace slows a bit as I begin the task of developing characters the reader will care about. Without the prologue, it’s tough to start a novel off with a big enough bang to hook the reader. And if I do, then it’s almost impossible to continue that level of conflict and suspense for the remainder of the book.

I prefer actions over metaphors at the start of the story. It takes time to roll out a decent metaphor, but action is immediate. Dollar for dollar, opening with an action scene packs the best punch.

We live in a fast-paced world. Musicians have seven seconds to capture a listener’s attention or they’re clicking on the next song. Movies have nine minutes to hook the viewer or it’s all about the popcorn, not what’s on the screen. Why should books be any different?

What do you think is the most important ‘to do’ for an opening scene?

JB: Opening scenes should have some action—we’ve established that. Now, throw in an exotic or dangerous location, dialogue that promises some great conflict down the road and a riveting plot hook. That’s more than one thing, but it’s all part of the most important “to do” for an opening scene. Because the “to do” is to hook the reader.

Go to a bookstore and look around. It’s packed with books—too many for one person to read in a lifetime. So as an author, you need to tell the person who picked up your book over every other one that “this is worth reading.” You only have one chance to convince them. Put all that persuasion on the cover blurb and in the opening scene and you’ll likely get a sale.

Do you write your opening scene first? Or do you write it (or dramatically rewrite it) at the end?

JB: Without exception, I write the opening scene first. I have never changed an opening scene once it’s safely tucked in the computer. The reason for that is simple. I’ve played the scene over in my head a thousand times before I wrote it. This scene sets the tone for the book. It invites complicity, promises a twist, hints of deception – whatever the writer decides it should do. And it draws the reader into that world, immediately and without mercy.

One Comment

  1. Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Excellent article.

    Jeff, I love the way your mind works. I try to do the same with my own books.

    Best of luck,


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