Begin in the Muggle World: Opening Scenes

Where should your novel begin? The Harry Potter series doesn’t start with the death of Harry’s parents, because Harry wasn’t old enough to remember that. It doesn’t start with the first day in Hogwarts School because it wouldn’t bring us into Harry’s world with a strong enough sense of character and a strong sympathy for Harry.

Instead, JK Rowling begins the whole series in the Muggle world, with a misfit Harry trying to survive while living under the stairway.

Build Sympathy. One crucial goal of openings is to create sympathy for a character that will carry through many challenges and events. An orphaned child who is forced to live with disagreeable parents will most certainly get sympathy. Poor thing, to be treated so shabbily; it’s not fair. We love our underdogs, don’t we?
Start with the Normal World. For Harry and for the reader, the normal world is the Muggle world where there is no magic. It’s the right place to start, but the wrong place to linger. Readers should understand exactly what the normal situation is before something comes along to shake up the world of the story.

Start with a Day that is Different. Harry’s under-the-stairs world is normal, but it doesn’t stay normal. Immediately something is different. It’s a delicate balance to make sure the contrast is set up between normal and the exciting world introduced in the story. You want enough of the normal to set up the contrast, but too much gets boring. Normal is boring. Think hard about where you might start the story and what are the first small inklings (or big huge inklings, if you choose) of change. Start there or a bit later.

5 responses to “Begin in the Muggle World: Opening Scenes”

  1. This gives me something to think about. I’ve been trying to figure out what would be an engaging opening scene for a short story that I wanted to write. I believe it’s important to hook the readers early on since so many lack patience to stick around to see if the story ‘builds up.’

  2. Hooking a reader is crucial, yes. But action and doom-and-gloom without character development doesn’t work either. You have to balance the need for action and the need for making the reader care. Try hooking a reader with an unusual voice!