Oh hey, it’s 2016! I suppose the start of a new year is as good a time as any to talk about beginnings and endings.
The intimidating first page. Many writers struggle to conquer it and write the perfect beginning. Sometimes it scares them so much they never start. What to do? How do you write the perfect beginning for your story?
Just do it!
You can never write your story if you never put words on the page. Guess what, you don’t have to write the beginning first! Liberate yourself from the pressure of the perfect beginning and write. If you’re feeling lost for your beginning, you can start anywhere. Get into the story and the awesome beginning scene will come to you.
Even if you think you have the perfect beginning planned out, often times you will reach the mid-point of your story and realize the story really starts in a different place. Some authors advise to always throw out your first chapter and start in chapter two. While I don’t personally advocate that practice, I do advise that you write knowing that anything you put down is expendable and rearrangeable.
Some writers start too soon in their story, some writers start too late. At this point in life I fall in the latter category. I’m always going back and adding stuff to the beginning. In fact, for my current book series, I’m having to go back and write almost an entire book’s worth of new beginning since I skipped over it in my impatience to get to “the good part” (a.k.a. the only part I had figured out). I’m missing out on all sorts of key scenes and important character development. Oops. Outlining ahead of time might have helped me there.
What goes into the beginning?
The main purpose of the beginning is to hook the reader and reel them into the story. You hook them with your first sentence, then spend the next few paragraphs to pages reeling them in. With readers you have a few pages, but with editors you only have a few paragraphs. So, pretty much your story needs to be awesome right from the start and keep building from there.
You need intrigue in the first paragraph, even in the first sentence. Establish that something is unique about your story. Show them the characters, setting, and conflict. You don’t have to introduce your main character at the start, but don’t stay away from them too long.
Beginnings build a sense of the story’s tone.
A good idea for learning about beginnings is to pick up good books and read the first few paragraphs and pages. Take notes. What does the author do? What catches your attention? What about it makes you want to keep reading?
Tip: One way to decide where to start is to ask yourself what is the most interesting scene to start with, and who has the best view of it? (It doesn’t have to be the protagonist.)
What NOT to do.
Do not start with a weather report. 99.9% of manuscripts starting with weather reports go straight into the trash at the slush pile because they are overdone. The 0.1% that don’t are astounding works of word art, and are probably written by already well established authors who can get away with things.
Don’t start with a report of the character waking up and their regular morning routine. It’s boring. The only reason to start with a morning routine is if something is different right off the bat.
Don’t start with dreams. Editors don’t like it, and it is also overdone. Only rare exceptions make it through the slush pile.
Don’t start at the protagonist’s birth unless something about it is unique, like in Natalie Whipple’s Transparent where the doctor drops the baby because she’s invisible.
DO NOT start with a bored character. Bored character equals bored reader. We don’t want them bored at the start. We want to hook them and get them interested. It’s hard to be interested in boredom.
Prologues, yay or nay?
Prologues are really a personal preference thing.
Prologues can either hurt or help. If they add to the story, then they help. If they bog things down right from the start, then they hurt. Some people skip reading prologues. Some people read them. If the information given in the prologue is important to the story, then you can just make it your first chapter. If it’s not important, but gives some cool insights on the world or characters you can leave it as a prologue. However, that cool stuff can probably be worked into the actual story as well.
Prologues should be SHORT. Readers want to get to the meat of the story as fast as possible. Don’t slow them down more than necessary.
Don’t waste time or characters to sacrifice just to show that there’s a monster in the story. Well, you can do it, but be aware that it’s cliche. If you do, I advise making it key to the plot.
Don’t use the prologue as an info-dump. Any information about the world or backstory important to the story should be worked into the actual story itself. Anything extra you want to share can go in an appendix or on your author blog/online community you build for your special little tribe of readers. J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling are good examples.
So there you have it.
I hope this helps you with your challenge of writing the beginnings in your stories. They aren’t easy, and there’s no one right way to write them, but I know you can do it.
Now go forth and write!
Your Writing Senpai