Don’t Interrupt Opening Scenes with Unnecessary Details

I hope your 2021 is starting off right, fellow Writers. Let’s all hope for a healthier and safer New Year. And an end to this pandemic!
The Wonder of Winter

Now let’s get to the meat of the post.

Writers shouldn’t interrupt opening scenes with unnecessary details. As writers, we need context in the opening scene of our stories. We want readers to know what our book is about. Specifically.

Readers come to story to see how what happens in the plot affects the characters, or rather, a particular character—our protagonist. People connect to people. We want the readers to care for our protagonist. And to do that, the reader needs to know why what happens in our story matters to our protagonist. What’s the protagonist up against in this story? What does she want?

We need to be in the scene with the protagonist and see how she’s making sense of the story/scene action. That being said, we shouldn’t constantly interrupt opening scenes with too much backstory or description. Writers need to stay in the moment in the opening scene especially.

But that doesn’t mean there is absolutely no backstory. We are inside the head of our protagonist. If our character would think of a prior life experience because of what’s occurring in the opening action, we need to show that to our readers. But we should keep it short. Only a reference to the character’s prior experience. We can elaborate later in the story.

We are enticing our readers to follow our story journey in order to understand situations in our protagonist’s life, why she acts as she does and why it’s so important to her. 

The reader needs to know what’s at stake in the story for the protagonist.

I recently printed out and read aloud the opening scene of my college memoir. Printing out pages helps a writer to actually see what is in a scene, and reading aloud helps the writer hear what happens to be sure it flows smoothly. Well this time, the scene didn’t flow smoothly. 

While I am in the head of the protagonist and making sense of her thoughts in this scene, I interrupt the scene with too much backstory about my special needs daughter—my impetus to begin college when I do. It’s just too much information too soon in the memoir story. It literally stops the forward motion of the opening scene. 

My daughter’s struggles in elementary school sometimes mirrored my own. They explain to the reader why the protagonist feels so inferior to those who went to college. However, they don’t need to be fully explained in the opening scene interrupting the action.   

Where will I put this information in the memoir story? I’m not sure at this time. Nor am I sure if I need all this information to show the reader a mother whose lack of belief in herself affects her ability to assist her children.

Writers shouldn’t interrupt the flow of their opening scenes with too much backstory or description. We should offer any important information in small doses when the character would be thinking of that information within the context of the scene being portrayed. 

I hope you’ve found some insight in what I’ve written. Please offer any tips you may have about opening scenes. It would be truly appreciated. And please ask any questions you may have about my college memoir in the comments section of Adventures in Writing. Thanks so much! 

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7 thoughts on “Don’t Interrupt Opening Scenes with Unnecessary Details”

  1. Thank you for this, Victoria. Adding information organically is difficult for me. I'm never sure if the reader is with me unless they know exactly everything about what the picture in my head is showing while I write the scene. Deciding what to expound and what to not mention or when to mention which part, is daunting.

  2. Including information within a story is very daunting, Dawn. It is daunting for every writer. At least it is for me, too. This is why as writers; we need editors and beta readers for our stories.

    Thank you so much for offering your insight here at Adventures in Writing. Have a beautiful Sunday!

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