I'm writing a crime story. Basically it begins with a friend of the main character asking him for a meeting and then introducing the case to him.

What I would like to do is to show something about the hero beforehand. Somehow I feel like it's necessary to build the MC at least with a short scene. Starting straight from the dialogue while reader doesn't even know characters doesn't feel right. I'm afraid they will be detached from the story and confused.

My issue is whatever I wrote felt forced. My gf who was doing proofreading of the initial pages just confirmed this. Only the scene about the crime case was a good read.

I will welcome any advice on this. Please help me decide which is the better approach.

  • 3
    Try a character-building exercise so he is not an empty slate waiting for instructions. Here's one: What was he doing 1 hour earlier? 1 day earlier? 1 week earlier…? Here's another: What would he rather be doing right now instead of this meeting…? Or, what is the most embarrassing memory between these friends…? You don't actually put these in the scene, but it might help give your detective something in his head/mood going into the meeting.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Jul 20, 2021 at 14:27
  • 1
    "Cold open" can very well be used in literature.
    – Alexander
    Commented Jul 20, 2021 at 20:23

3 Answers 3


I would start without describing the main character or introducing them.

Instead of starting with someone explaining the case, you could begin with some action and flashback to the meeting.

It is usually best to introduce a character by what they do, what they say and how people react to them, rather than describing them.

You could try beginning with the crime being committed. TV shows do this at times. We see the crime but not who commits it. We want to know.


It Was A Dark And Stormy Night:

Starting a story, especially a novel, is an amazingly hard thing to do. You need to give a HUGE amount of data to people without pouring it down their throats. This leads to authors writing, re-writing, and re-re-writing. I've done it.

What's worse, the people who look at your novel and decide if it has what it takes typically only look at the first 5-10 pages (if you're lucky) before deciding if they want to see more or not. From the average number of rejections for even established authors, it is a horrible, deeply unfair practice. But there it is. So these first few pages are critical to set up a situation where the reader really wants to read more. Some people will even read the first couple pages of a story in the store (if in-person) or library before deciding to read the rest.

I would leave it open as to what the problem with the story is that makes the beginning clunky. Maybe it IS how the character is introduced. In most stories, the show-don't-tell principle is key here. You are describing a lot of details about your characters up-front, setting the scene for the events unfolding. So in this case, you might talk about the MC and what he's doing as their friend calls them to make an appointment. Make it something revealing about their nature.

If they are desperately poor, then their office is a dingy little dive in a dilapidated building, OR they are on their cell phone because they can't afford the office anymore (it's okay to explain some of this as the character's internal monolog). If they are an ex-vet, they get the call while attending a funeral for a fellow vet who killed themselves due to PTSD. This is the intro scene, and THEN you have the friend call, setting up the story. But these few pages are going to be DRIPPING with content, and every line needs to be communicating some detail about the story.

The first line is the most important. It must be a great hook, and (I'm told) ALWAYS introduce the MC unless it's a prolog. A lot of people hate prologs, BTW, so avoid them if you can, unless you have time travel or precognition to justify them.

In my recent novel, I've rewritten the beginning five times. Once because people didn't like one of the characters (who, admittedly was scummy), once because it didn't have enough bang (in this case, the current version has an actual shooting within three pages), and once because I ignored my own advice and tried to write it starting with a different character (my editor was not amused).

So experiment with different beginnings, but regardless of which way you go, make it impactful and full of rich description that reveals the nature of the MC by what they do, how they do it, where they're at, and what they're thinking as the do it. Engage all five senses if possible to make the character feel real and emotionally connect with the reader. And don't be afraid to try a different beginning over and over until something really clicks.


As said before, describing a character by the way they act/say/how people react and showing are the best way to introduce a character without it seeming like you're giving too much detail. When you want to be mysterious about a character, be sure to give just enough detail while also keeping a mystery through showing and actions. Starting with a crime being committed is a great way to start because it aids to the mystery.

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