Open with Feelings

You control when the reader identifies with your protagonist.  Engage the reader within the opening scene to keep the reader attentive and loyal.  Your protagonist’s feelings establish his personality and develops a friendship with the reader.

Feelings.  Reveal the protagonist’s feelings.  I worked for a corporation where every morning, my boss asked me how I felt.  It seemed contrived, but I liked it and always answered honestly.  Opening with an action scene or a flowery setting lacks depth unless you include the protagonist’s emotions.  What does he think about the chase?  Is he getting old and it hurts his joints?  Did his cat just die and he really doesn’t want to be bothered with a terrorist at the moment?

Bird by Janie BillGive your reader a reason to sympathize with your protagonist.  Help him understand the hardships or joys your protagonist has faced through his interpretation of the opening events.

Grand descriptions about the protagonist’s appearance, his snowy bread and his twinkling eyes, won’t entice a reader to think of him as a breathing person.  Save the eye colors and wardrobe explanations for after the opening scene.  Let the reader visualize whatever character is special according to his personal experiences.  Later, your physical characteristics about his hair texture or navy eyes will deepen his impression.

Atmosphere.  The atmosphere of the opening scene can be shown through the protagonist’s feelings.  His viewpoint creates the voice.  If the mood is dark, consider having your protagonist on her way home from the best birthday party she has ever attended.  This contrast imposes tension and establishes a distinctive tone.  The reader is more likely to identify with a happy person who is in a dangerous situation than that of a bad person who deserves to suffer.

Organization.  Structure the opening scene to build tension.  A successful chain of action is to show an event, which reveals a problem for the protagonist.  Build the tension to a point that forces the protagonist to make decisions in an attempt to resolve his problem.  Show the protagonist executing his plan.  Then, reveal the consequences of his choices.

By sharing his feelings at each phase of the structure, you layer addition conflicts between his choices and his desires.  The greater the number of layers, the higher the stakes.  Your reader will identify with feelings of fear, doubt, and determination, even if he has never had the same situation occur during his life.

In order to accomplish the techniques of showing the character’s feelings during the first few sentences, you need to have already analyzed him with your character outline and interview.  See my blog tab, “Foremost,” for additional suggestions.

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2 thoughts on “Open with Feelings

  1. Janie,
    I hadn’t read this yet. Thank you for putting this up. It explains why my prologue works pretty well and my first chapter, the real intro to the actual main character(s) still needs some work.


    • Good insight. It is tempting to follow the lead on movies and create an action based intro without any depth to the characters. Unfortunately, our readers might not visualize the same dashing characters that we see in our heads unless we show them what makes our dare-devils heroic.

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