The Opening Scene: A Litmus Test



Friday I blogged about opening lines and pages and their importance. (Thanks for those who gave feedback on my lines, btw!) Based on the comments I received, I am clearly not the only one who freaks out over openings. This, of course, sent me to my piles of writing books to see what the pros had to say about the opening scene.

One of my favorite writing books Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan Rosenfeld (If you don't have it, get it. The book breaks down the elements of a scene and also goes over types of scenes--dramatic/contemplative/action/flashback etc.) Anyway, the book also has a great litmus test for what needs to be present in an opening scene.
Below are the basic components. I'll put my completed novel to the test as an example and see how it goes.
1. A challenge to your protagonist's status quo.
Ex.) My MC (Willow) finds out that she's received a scholarship to a stuck-up private school out of state. She doesn't want to go. She's found her safe niche at her current school and doesn't want to mess things up.
Thoughts: I think this works. A new school and state would threaten any teen's status quo.
2. An antagonist for your character to encounter. (Doesn't have to be THE antagonist.)
Ex.) Willow's mother wants her to take the scholarship and argues with her.
Thoughts: Perhaps my antagonist and conflict could be stronger. She loves her mother, so although they argue, Willow holds back a lot.
3. Introduce your protagonist's immediate intentions.
ex.) Willow likes to blend in, to play things low key. She has to figure out a way to talk her mom out of moving her to a new school.
Thoughts: I think her intentions are pretty obvious, so this probably works.
4. A glimpse into your MC's history/personality/motivation.
ex.) Willow responses to her mother show her to be sarcastic, smart, and self-deprecating. But also loving and concerned about making her mother happy. In many ways, we see that she has taken on an adult role to offset her mother's flightiness.
Thoughts: I could probably add more heft in my opening for this component to clarify my MC's motivation
5. The protagonist makes a decision that leads immediately to more complications.
ex.) Willow decides to accept the scholarship, which of course leads to the whole rest of the story.
Thoughts: This decision changes everything in her life, so I think this works.

Okay, so putting my scene to these standards definitely shows me some holes I could work on.
What do you think? Are these components a good summary of what you like to read/write in an opening scene? Think back to your favorite books, do they follow these guidelines? Can you think of any other "must haves" in an opening?