Not a duplicate of Trying to avoid being cliché as that question asks about the opening line, rather than an opening event.

I am trying to avoid the many clichés out there, so I had a question about one:

Would an action-packed event happening in the first chapter of a book be considered a trope or cliché?

For example, if the very first chapter was a plane crashing, a car chase, or a bomb exploding, etc. to hook the reader.

I feel like I heard somewhere that this method is used so often it has became a cliché of sorts and I should avoid it.

However, this event is important to my storyline and I have also heard attention-grabbing first chapters are a good thing.

So... would this be a trope?

2 Answers 2


Go Big or Go Home:

You definitely need a hook right up front. That doesn't NEED to be fireworks, but fireworks are loud, and they get attention. I tried to write an intro that started dramatically but wasn't fireworks, and I got a lot of criticism that it just didn't "pop." I moved my timeline around to start with a massacre, and it was all smiles and the smell of cordite.

I just finished a writer's conference, and someone asked if starting with a dramatic event, then flashing back to build story was okay. I fully expected the experts to say "Don't do it!" or "Only if you can do X, Y, or Z." Instead, they said, "Oh, yeah, that's fine." I was shocked - they didn't seen to like anything cliché. On this point, however, they all agreed. Do what you need to to pull out the big guns (literally or figuratively) up front.

Literary agents only typically look at the first 5 to 15 pages. If they aren't salivating to read more by then, they send you a polite automated letter if you're lucky, or just DON'T if you aren't lucky. If you can't grab them and shake them hard by then, you've missed your chance. So you don't need to start with a bang, but do something loud enough to be heard or you won't be heard.


cli·ché /klēˈSHā/ noun 1. a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. "the old cliché “one man's meat is another man's poison.”"

Because they are the events of your story, they can't be cliché. They can be over-used, tired, retreads, lazy writing. Like werewolves. Used to be you could write a good werewolf story and you were golden. Now, you practically can’t give it away, unless you include vampires and romance and then you odds are slightly improved.

In movies, the exciting opening scenes you described are pretty common in the action genre. The real question to ask is how common are they in your targeted genre.

If you are a writer of Cozy-Mysteries then you are probably introducing some new and exciting to the field. I don't really know, its just an example. For all I know, the Cozy Mystery genre explicitly forbids such opening. Or maybe Cozy Mysteries are all about plane crashes and submarines exploding and buildings falling down. It was just a made up point to communicate a principle, not offered for its factual value.

There are many great ways to open to a story, and starting your story as close as possible to the action is one very valid approach. If you are aware of published novels that have similar openings, then you want to make sure that you are treating in a unique way, particular to your specific story. Also, it should be germane or relevant to the story you are telling. If you are choosing some exciting opening just to get peoples juices flowing, but the arc of the story curves elsewhere then the natural question that will occur to readers is why this high action scene that didn't do anything for the story. If the action is used to try and spice up boring writing, then readers will get bored and put your book down, which is alright, since they already paid for it, but they won't buy anymore.

Your high action openings work for a certain kind of writing. The pulp fiction stories about spies and soldiers and space cadets and cowboys and hard boiled detectives and space soldiers and hard boiled spies rely on constant action to engage the reader, and are usually short on plot and character development. And they aren't likely to work for literary writing -- high brow stories where the emphasis is on how the story is told and not so much the story. Not that it couldn't, its just that writers like Theroux and Faulkner and Conroy focused on the character's inner life and emotions and not so much on the excitement of an airplane plummeting out of the sky.

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