Everywhere I look, I see advice for writers and especially about how to craft the beginning of your story. Most of the time I hear that the reader wants to see action right away, that your opening scene must have something "happen" that gets things rolling. This is a technique that works well a lot of the time, and for some stories I'm sure it's the way to go.
Is it the only way to go?
No, I don't think so. For an example, I recently began reading a YA fantasy that is selling very well. It's all over the shelves and has a zillion sequels in the series. The beginning of the first book takes off right away in an action scene where the villain shows up, we've got the teenage protagonists and the older knowledgeable figure letting them know what's going on. I let myself get in 70 pages, and tons of stuff happens. All I knew about those teenage protagonists was that they were "normal teens" and had iPods, and lots of other buzzwords that labeled them as ordinary.
Oh good, ordinary cardboard teens...my favorite. A whole bunch of interesting stuff happened to people I care absolutely nothing about. I knew nothing about them, and I could care less if the villain showed up and kidnapped them both. I put the book down and stopped reading.
To me, it's more important to learn who the story is about first, before the story happens to them. Authors can do this successfully while showing an action scene, but I don't think it's the only way. In the opening of a novel, I'm happy as long as I'm learning who the character is and some hints about what's going to change for them, or what the big conflict will be.
Yes, I'm a writer...but I'm also a reader. Other readers must want what I do. I have a few examples. (Yes, they're all YA distopias, I'm on a distopia kick. In college, I took a utopian/distopian fiction course that rocked the world.)
For example, the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The opening scene here, Katniss wakes up without her Sister, describes her family, her home, and hints that it is the day of the Reaping which is the early big problem. She leaves the house and goes hunting and talks to Gale. That's all that "happens" action-wise. The opening scenes here definitely do not begin right where the inciting incident does, but we all know how well Hunger Games as done.
Another example, Divergent by Veronica Ross. The opening scene shows Beatrice receiving a haircut from her mother and looking in the mirror. She describes her world, her family, and that today is the day of the Aptitude test (first big problem). She then continues on to school. This is not very action heavy, but we learn a lot about Beatrice and her world.
Final example, Matched by Ally Condie. The opening scene is a dream, and then Cassia wakes up and describes some of her world and that today is the day of her Matching. She has breakfast with her family and continues on with her day. No thrilling action, but again, we learn a lot about who she is, and what is happening in her life.
This brings me to my point. Not all techniques are for all types of fiction, or all stories. Sometimes you do what the advice is, and other times you go with your gut. My gut says that there are lots of readers like me, and that sometimes, action isn't the only way to go.
What do you think?