How to Write the Beginning of a Story
6 Things to Consider in your Beginning
“How do I write the beginning of a story” is nestled within every writer’s Google history. It is almost a shameful struggle, to have an amazing plot in your mind thick with action and intrigue but unable to find a beginning- or one that lives up to the climax of the piece. The beginning of a story is vital; it must be strong and grab reader’s attention. With the plethora of books at the reader’s disposal, it doesn’t matter how interesting the middle or the end of the book is if the beginning doesn’t hook them in. Read the beginning of stories you like and dissect them, try and figure out why you find this beginning memorable. For example, L. P. Hartley’s, The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” I consider this beginning memorable because it holds a sad, acknowledged truth about time. As you read on you realise that the beginning line encapsulates the tremendous regret that the protagonist holds from his childhood, making it a haunting line upon re-reading. Here are some helpful tips to craft an intriguing beginning but remember the most important tip is just to write!
1. Do NOT open with a description of the weather.
This is a tiresome beginning, unless the weather is a vital part of your story please avoid. Author, Christopher Fowler, considers opening a story with weather to be a bad sign given the many ways a story can begin. Fowler does acknowledge the “exceptions” of this rule (every writing “rule” seems to have an exception) with one example being from, Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Within the first few lines Dickens creates a vivid image of a dinosaur waddling through the mud, making it a peculiar and amusing opening, which uses weather to aid its imagery, rather then being the focus.
2. DO consider deleting the first paragraph.
Most writers feel the need to write themselves into their stories, giving unnecessary details and backstory, basically spoon feeding their readers. If you find the beginning of your story dull consider omitting the first paragraph and see if that picks up the pace of your story.
3. Do NOT open with a dream.
As a reader, you feel cheated that the bizarre beginning of a story about a man running naked through the zoo, whilst being chased by wound up penguins isn’t true. As a reader you feel as though you are being messed around and everything that you’ve read up to this point was a waste of your time.
4. DO look at whether you are starting in the right place.
If your beginning lacks the suspense you need, are you really starting your story in the right place? Try picking another point in your story with more action or suspense where you can start. Play around with your draft, see if starting in the thick of the action works, or maybe right after? Leave the audience in suspense over the tension lingering between your characters as they seethe in anger over words/ actions unknown to the audience and let them figure out what occurred.
5. Do NOT open with a premonition directed to the readers.
“If I only knew then what was going to happen I would change everything I did that day.” Yes, it is a relatable thought and yes, some would say it sets up the suspense but these days it falls into the category of cliché. It also gives away the suspense. As a reader, you are expecting something to happen so instead let them pick up the clues and be shocked along with the protagonist.
6. How to write a good first line
It is stressful writing a good first line, so much depends on it: hooking in your readers, setting up your story and making it memorable. On the Internet are lists upon lists of the greatest opening lines in literature. I find these lists incredibly helpful to look at to inspire my own writing (but mainly just to read in awe). Having a list of examples of memorable opening lines is great to quickly dissect in order to understand their popularity. For example, George Orwell’s, 1984, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Orwell’s statement takes another re-read to realise that all the clocks don’t strike thirteen, making readers wary that all statements in this novel/world should be questioned. Dissect and understand techniques other authors have used and try to apply it to your own first line.
I admit, as a writer we can be tremendously bias towards our own work but we can also be extremely critical and cruel. I know the cruellest things said about some of my writing came from my own mouth. If your own story doesn’t entertain you, why would it entertain someone else? If your own first line doesn’t grab your attention, why would it grab someone else’s? Of course, if you’ve been sitting at a desk working on it for hours and days on end it might help to put it away for a while and then come back to it. You might come up with a great idea during that time or when you come back to it you might instantly spot the problem. I hate to say it, given this article might of sparked some hope but there is no formula to write an amazing beginning. All I can tell you is just write, write, write. You’ll be surprised at the little treasures you find in your daily writing and might find one thought you jotted down to be a great opening. I recently wrote this sleep deprived thought in my journal: “The other day I asked myself if I were an inanimate object what would I be? I’m still not sure what I’d like to be but I know I’d hate to be a TV because everyone would look at me and I couldn’t cope under that kind of pressure.” As you can see, not everything you write is going to be amazing but write it, edit it or omit it- doesn’t matter! Just write!