I am still not sure I'm satisfied with the opening scene of my WIP. I’ve left it alone for a few weeks, and yesterday came across a chapter in Hooked, by Les Edgerton, that offers a priority list of where exactly to start, and what information needs to be excluded.
I’ve already trimmed a chapter and a half of backstory. Edgerton writes:
Unless a book is part of an already established series, it opens on a blank world. A reader knows nothing about the situation or the characters. This is why it is tempting to write backstory, feeling the need to bring the reader up to date with a set up.
He says the most essential components of an opening scene are:
1. Inciting incident—the event that creates the lead’s initial surface problem and sets the stage for the story-worthy problem. This is the “action” part of the story, the part that is plot-based.
2. Story-worthy problem—the deep, inner life changing issue or character trait the lead will resolve by the end of the book.
3. The Initial Surface problem—the first, outer problem the main character has to solve as a result of the inciting incident. It propels the lead to take action.
4. The Set-up—the first few words that orient the reader in the opening scene. Who and where and what’s happening.
5. Backstory—anything and everything that has happened up to the time of the inciting incident.
6. Opening Line
7. Language—avoid adverbs. Limit adjectives.
8. Character introduction—by showing their reactions to the inciting incident.
The reader doesn’t need to understand what led to the opening situation in order to fully realize the significance of what’s happening when trouble begins. Trust the reader.