One of the most common pieces of writing advice you’ll hear is “Start with action.” And it’s good advice. Too much exposition, too much backstory at the beginning only bogs down the story and tempts readers to put the book down. Which is not what you want.
“Margaret slapped Henry as hard as she could” is much better than “Margaret stared at her husband, hearing his hurtful words, and curled her fingers into a fist.” Why is the first example better than the second? Because readers are going to wonder why Margaret slapped Henry. And they’ll keep reading.
At the beginning of each scene, ask yourself at what point in the plot are your characters; where did you leave them and what should they do next? You also need to determine what the most important piece of information is that needs to be revealed in the scene.
So, you’re going to start with action, right? Here’s some additional advice:
- Be sure the action is true to your character. If Margaret in later scenes is shown to be inhibited and mousy, she wouldn’t have slapped Henry in the opening.
- Remember motivation/reaction. In other words, the character acts first, then reacts. So Margaret slaps, then…feels whatever she’s going to feel. Satisfaction at the bright red spot on her husband’s cheek? Astonishment that she allowed him to provoke her to violence? But the action comes first.
- Make sure to utilize the five senses throughout. What does the character see/smell/hear/feel/taste? (Not all at once, of course. That would be information overload.)