1. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Opening Unconnected to the Story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Gallowglass, Dec 5, 2012.

    The opening of the book I'm currently writing is a scene where three insurgents shoot down a suspected informer on the forecourt of a petrol station. Although it leads into the story itself, with a news report of the event shown on a television that the main character is watching right at the start of the first chapter, it isn't related to the story itself and none of the characters involved surface again except in the dialogue of others.

    So far I've justified keeping it on the basis that it's a dramatic opening which will peak the reader's interest (moreso than a guy watching TV) and set the scene for the world in general better than a description of someone's lounge would. I've seen a similar sort of thing done in other books, notably a couple of Conn Iggulden's, but I wanted to know what other writers thought before I came to a final decision.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I would think you would want it to serve some purpose in the story, such as setting a mood, giving the reader a sense of the times in which the story is set or an indication of an aspect of the main character that will be important later in your story (e.g. he is horrified by the shooting and becomes a strong advocate for gun control).
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first impulse is to say if it's only mentioned in a dialogue later, there's little legitimate reason to include it at all. Whatever importance the scene has could be conveyed in those conversations. I would keep it for now, however, and see how the rest of the book plays out. It may turn out you can make more use of it; it may turn out to be totally unnecessary. But don't keep it simply because it peaks readers' interest - most won't like not seeing some relevance later on, and it does sort of indicate that your opening is otherwise weak.
     
  4. the antithesis
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    the antithesis Member

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    Is the petrol station scene more indicative of what the rest of the story is about than a guy watching tv? If your story was more about this guy's mundane life than getting involved with intrigue or shooting people, I would consider that opening to be a cheap gimmick to open your story with something more exciting than anything that happen in the rest of it since it's about an accountant working up the nerve to ask the secretary from the typing pool out on a date. But if that guy gets pulled out of that safe world of watching tv in his lounge to where he's running around an abandoned power station trying to kill some terrorists before they can terror people, then that works. You give us a taste of what the rest of the story is going to be like before returning to the starting point of humdrum normal life from the main character. So the question is, is this a cheap gimmick or a preview in your story?
     
  5. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe it can serve to set up a contrast - violent life as shown on television versus dull mundane life of a clerk? Of course, it would depend on the type of the story, and the genre, if you write genre fiction.
     
  6. the antithesis
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    That could work, too. It could be made that the violet tv stuff is a metaphor for the otherwise mundane happenings or something. Point it, it can't be a total non-sequitur that's there to provide a more exciting opening.
     
  7. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Something of a preview. The central premise of the book is the brother being drafted into an urban terrorist outfit. But that doesn't happen until later on, and the characters involved and the shooting never come up again except in reference by other characters.
     
  8. the antithesis
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    the antithesis Member

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    In that case, I think it works. Those characters don't need to come up again. That opening scene was more to help set the tone or some elements of your world.

    I've seen lesser authors use such a thing as a cheap gimmick and then weakly justify it with methods like having characters talk about it because they saw it on tv or something like that, when in reality the scene stands out like a sore thumb.
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You could use it as a symbol to show that the veiwer - mc is numb/indifferent to the violence shown
    on tv because it has no baring on his life - of course when his own problem arises that would be
    the contrast and growth of the character.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it can work if you don't take too long to let the reader know what it's doing there... that can be a very effective opening, if kept short...

    btw, the word is 'pique' in re 'interest'... not 'peak'... it means to sharpen it...
     
  11. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    As described, it sounds sub-optimal... it's not that that kind of opening can't work, but it's a dangerous game to play. Piquing a reader's interest with something and then ignoring that something for the remainder of the book tends to lead to frustrated readers.

    You'd probably be better off finding a new event that's more connected to your main story, or finding a way of making this one connected instead. Your readers are going to expect more than 'this is a vaguely thematic thing that happened to people we don't care about any more'.
     
  12. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    To my mind it needs greater connection to the rest of the book, but that doesn't mean that it has to be a part of the plot. Maybe its just something, a thought, that keeps recurring in your MC's internal dialogue as he goes through his story arc. So he learns of his brother's recruitment and his immediate thought is of three gunmen opening fire on a man in a petrol station.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  13. Caeben
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    This. Cold openings should be relatively short and should either fit thematically with the rest of the work or possess small but visible links to the plot of the rest of the work. Nothing irritates me more than a long cold opening that doesn't quickly connect to what else is going on in the book or in the world that the story takes place in.
     
  14. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    My second novel has an opening (that I'm currently reworking) that might at first appear unconnected to the rest of the book, even the main character in it is only in that opening. But there are many things in it that resonate through the story and despite what I could do to gerrymander in a different, more immediately accessible beginning, I feel that it's the opening the book should have. It could also be seen as a disorienting opening for other reasons, but if a reader can't cope with it then they aren't going to like my writing much anyway.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The key is the difference between unconnected and seemingly unconnected. If it's unconnected, it should go. If it's seemingly unconnected, there had damned well better be a payoff. The reader must discover the connection before the book ends.
     

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