Ink-Stained Scribe

Writing Openings - Learning from The Hunger Games Model

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Openings are tough. For me, they're one of the hardest things to get right. The balance of exposition and action, character introduction and identification, has always been something that takes me much longer than it probably should.

What everyone tells you to do in openings:

1. Show what the main character cares about.
2. Threaten what the main character cares about.

There are a billion and eleven ways to accomplish those two things, and however basic they may seem, they're still hard to do. It's the how, not the what, that's a little tricky to me.

At the most recent meeting of my writing club, Raven brought up a point our friend Ed (of IGMS and Magical Words) had made on a panel at ConCarolinas: The Hunger Games has an impressively succinct opening.

Think about it; within the first pages we learn how deeply Katniss cares about her sister, Prim. Not only does she break the law to feed her family, but she also tolerates her little sister's cat, which she hates. Despite the cat being another mouth to feed, Katniss lets it stay because Prim loves it, which shows how deeply Katniss cares about Prim. That's all within the first two or so pages. This caring perfectly sets up the story's inciting incident: Prim getting chosen to compete in the Hunger Games, and Katniss taking her place.

Openings don't come naturally to me, and I tend to take a while to ramp up into the story, action or not. In conjunction with this observation, two of my beta readers for HELLHOUND, Bryan Lincoln and Darci Cole, made a couple of points that had me rethinking that opening. I knew I needed to make it succinct and precise, like the Hunger Games, and to do that I had to think critically about the opening. I came up with the following method for accomplishing the two elements of the opening:

The Hunger Games Model

1. Demonstrate what the main character cares about by showing them overcoming some obstacle/hardship or another because he/she cares about it. (Motivation in evidence!)
2. Threaten the thing that character cares about in such a way that forces him/her to take the first step along the story's course.

I know, I know. Reading it written out like that makes me sort of go, "Duh. Of course that's how an opening should be done." But it has taken several failures and some strict, sit-down-and-analyze time for me to figure out not only what needed to happen, but how to do that.

I came up with exactly how to harvest these elements from HELLHOUND and weave them together in a scene that is similar to what I already had, but will likely work much better.

Does your story's opening follow the Hunger Games Model? How? What other ways have you seen or utilized to open a story?