Opening scenes that don't work

I've been judging a spate of contests the last few months. Sometimes, I get entries so good that I wonder why the contestant is wasting time entering contests. They should be submitting to agents/editors.

Then there are the other times....

One trend I've noticed that I haven't seen in a long time is opening a novel with a dream sequence or with a fantasy scene of some sort - something completely in the character's head.

If a writer creates a highly dramatic scene in which the dreaming character faces their own specific horror, fraught with emotion and action, does it work to draw the reader in? Usually, no.

Upon opening a book, the reader does not KNOW the character so his nightmarish suffering does not move the reader. In fact, it can be a rather ho-hum experience for the reader who will more than likely skip ahead to find out where the STORY starts. That's right, the story. A dream is not the story. It's just mood setting.

As a writer, you must realize what you are striving for immediately is reader identification. You want the reader to say: "yeah, I understand that guy. I like him. I'll follow him for 400 pages to see what happens along the way." The reader must "bond" with the character and care about the character. This is done by seeing how the character acts and reacts, by seeing the character's goals and efforts to achieve them, by getting acquainted with the character. You can't get acquainted with a dreaming character.

So save that nightmare that explains his deepest motivation for later in the book - after the reader is already acquainted with the hero and is willing to follow him on his goal quest.

Hope that makes sense. I'm tired and probably sound like I'm ranting after reading one too many manuscripts that begine with a dream.

Sling Words out and to bed.

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