Too Normal For A Good Opening?

by Maisy Groves

Question: Well, you see I am trying to write a book based on a classic set in the modern day and it starts with a normal school day, the aim of this was to introduce the characters and establish exactly who they are in Alice's head, e.g a girl called Dana is late for a lesson because she lost her watch and is meant to represent the White Rabbit. Is it too normal to start with the school day before the event or should I just go straight with her being hit by the swing and going into 'Wonderland' almost immediately?

Answer: Oh, it so much depends on how you write that first chapter.

If you are planning to spend an entire chapter on the day before, and all that happens is that a girl arrives late...that doesn't sound very intriguing in itself.

On the other hand, if Dana is the impact character, you could make this episode a significant event that shakes Alice's world and grabs the reader's interest. It's all about how interesting you make Dana, the voice of the main character, and the event.

If you've been reading the articles on this site, you'll know that a complete story has four throughlines: those of the overall plot, the main character arc, the impact character's influence, and the relationship between the main and impact character. So the first act of the story consists of the first big signposts of each throughline, in any order.

This means you can start your story with either the overall story (Alice's bump on the head) or the first time the impact character exerts an influence (the late arrival) or with an event that shows who the main character is at the start, or their relationship at the start (are Alice and Dana friends, enemies, etc.?).

Another alternative is to have both these events (late arrival, bump on head) occur on the same day and cover the late arrival in just a few paragraphs rather than an entire chapter. It depends how significant this event will be.

What matters is that you give the reader something of interest as quickly as possible. Avoid anything that sounds like a "normal day." Normal days are boring and uneventful. Instead, show an eventful day, a departure from normality, and introduce the characters as they cope with the event.

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