Sanity Snippet #12

In Sanity Snippet #11 we determined our inciting incident (what gets our story moving). Today, let’s consider the opening image.

As the name suggests, this image should be unveiled at the beginning of our story. Many experts contend it should come shortly before the inciting incident. Naturally, it should reveal the protagonist in his ordinary world (recall, that’s his life before he sets off on his adventure at the end of Act I).

Let’s step back, we’re not editing our manuscript. We are developing our story. We are a long way from writing our first draft. Sanity Snippets are all about getting started with our novel. Much will likely change later on. For example, the inciting incident we recently chose, may change. The point is, we need to start somewhere. Also, as to the timing of the opening image, don’t get bogged down on whether to choose a day, week, month, or year prior to the inciting incident. The goal is simply to make a decision and go forward.

Keep this quote in mind as you plod along:

Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. Or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.

Stephen King

Here’s an exercise you could try. Grab a pencil and start free-writing. Think about your hook, the inciting incident, and your first act break. What ties these together? Or could? Brainstorm, jot down everything that comes to mind. Don’t worry about them being far-fetched. You are thinking. You are writing. You are engaged with story creation. It can be messy and frustrating, yet ultimately rewarding.

Let’s say the story idea you’ve been developing throughout these Sanity Snippets has a politician as the protagonist. He’s already served as state representative and governor. Now, he wants to run for U.S. Senate.

Maybe the inciting incident you choose is his fifteen year old teenage daughter who is coming to live with him. And, she’s pregnant (her backstory could be any number of things, as could that of your protagonist).

Maybe your protagonist is an opportunist of sorts and chooses to ‘use’ his pregnant teenage daughter to promote his senatorial campaign. At the first act break, he reveals she will not have an abortion (protagonist is against, even says “all abortion is murder.”).

Now, what is your opening image? What is your protagonist doing twenty-four or forty-eight hours before he learns his teenage daughter is coming to live with him (backstory: what if she was a mistake? Meaning, the daughter is the product of an illicit affair fifteen years ago?)?

Maybe he is giving a campaign speech revealing his position on abortion? Maybe he is in church (is he religious? Probably, but it’s your story) listening to his pastor preach his most aggressive pro-life sermon? Keep brainstorming. In the context of the example, raw materials start surfacing because you have gained entrance into your story through the process we’ve been pursuing in the Sanity Snippet series.

Keep thinking, keep writing, and remember, you don’t have to get it right the first time. Your story may change as you continue to outline. It may change during the writing of your first draft. Stay engaged and story will slither up beside you.

Question: is today a good day to commit to a regular writing routine?

Photo by ICSA on

Author: Richard L. Fricks

Former CPA, attorney, and lifelong wanderer. I'm now a full-time skeptic and part-time novelist. The rest of my time I spend biking, gardening, meditating, photographing, reading, writing, and encouraging others to adopt The Pencil Driven Life.

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