One thing that is constantly debated amongst new writers is the opening of their novel. The prevailing attitude is that they need some big BOOM to catch the reader’s attention right off the bat. Well, that’s not necessarily the case. So, I’ll explain the differences between an active and action opening.
This is where something happens that involves action. Think of Die Hard With a Vengeance. How did it open? With a department store being blown up in the first scene. Well, a lot of new writers choose to take this approach. Their character is shooting, running, jumping or some sort of physical action. While a writer needs to grab ahold of a reader off the bat, it’s not always necessary to use that formula.
I once wrote a novel opening where my MC was running from someone and slid to a stop before looking behind her. This was truly an action opening. The question the reader ends up asking themselves is: “Why is she running?”
It’s nowhere near as nuanced as the active opening is.
An active opening differs from an action opening in the fact that while SOMETHING is happening, it’s not the overriding item. A good opening gives a reader something to wonder about, and want to know more. Here’s an example: a person riding a subway and uncomfortable in the crowd. Why is that the case? It provides a question that a reader would want to answer.
I personally cut the first eight chapters out of my novel and then used Chapter 9 as a start. It starts active and then goes into action through the rest. How did I do it? The Main Character (henceforth known as MC) is watching a city die on the command center view screen. The mushroom cloud is rising and the MC’s reactions, and thoughts about the situation, fill the next 3-4 paragraphs before going into physical action.
Why this is called an ‘active opening?’ While there is action occurring, it’s not the center of attention. The MC’s reactions are, along with what happened, carry the scene. Plus, in the eyes of the reader, they’re going to be asking themselves “Why is this city being nuked? What’s happening? Who’s attacking? Where is this? And what will the woman in the first scene do about it?”
So, an active opening poses a question to the reader. That leads them to want to read further to see the answer.