Our three example novels all begin on a significant day. It is a holiday of sorts, though the celebration is touched with sadness and pain. When tied into the final battle scene of the story, this type of beginning produces a more satisfying ending.
Harry Potter begins on a day the wizards are celebrating Voldemort’s defeat and departure. They are celebrating “the boy who lived,” but we also know that some did not live: Harry’s parents sacrificed themselves to protect Harry from Voldemort.
Twilight opens with Bella preparing for her death, and though it certainly isn’t festive, the reverence reminds me of the kind reserved for holidays (or sacraments even). She thinks, “Surely it was a good way to die, in the place of someone else, someone I loved. Noble even.” (TW Preface).
The Hunger Games begins on the Reaping Day, a day the districts are forced to celebrate. It is a painful event because twenty-three children are essentially sentenced to death, and Katniss sacrifices herself by taking the spot of her sister in the Games.
Here’s why these celebratory beginnings work:
- First, something important is already going on. We don’t have to wait for the Hero to find some action because we are already trying to catch up; we are curious to figure out why the day is special. Sounds like a hook to me.
- Second, we are immediately on notice that there are life-or-death situations ahead. These beginnings introduce us to the Villain or evil force, so we know what is at stake. Plus we see the characters sacrificing themselves for others, which stirs our empathy towards them.
- Finally, the celebratory day foreshadows the Hero’s final confrontation with the Villain.
Harry ends up fighting Voldemort upon his attempted return to power. Bella confronts the evil vampire, even though Edward has tried so hard to keep her alive. Katniss takes on the Capitol when she forces a two-person win of the Hunger Games, and by extension she rebels against the Reaping Day.
Beginning the story with a “bittersweet celebration” allows the final climax to mean more when we get there. We are left with the effect of “all the pieces falling into place.”
Open the novel on a significant day. The celebration should be filled with love, shown by one character’s willingness to sacrifice their self for another. The celebration should also imply the possibility of the Hero’s death by an evil force.