In the Beginning...
So...where do I start??
While reading "101 Best Scenes Ever Written" by Barnaby Conrad, I thought long and hard about how to begin a story.
I wish I had read this chapter earlier in my writing journey...like, say, back in 2004. But now that I have read and re-read this chapter, I feel the beginnings of my stories are stronger.
Why is the beginning of a story so important?
If you have analyzed your audience and know what they like and dislike, you will have a better idea of how to begin your story.
Conrad (2007) wrote:
"Remember that a story is something that happens to somebody and the sooner that happening begins, the better" (p. 7)
A dull beginning can doom your work, but a sharp fascinating beginning can grab your readers and thrust them into your world...and make them turn the page!
For fun, here are some classic beginnings:
From Moby Dick:
Call me Ishmael.
From The Vale of Laughter:
Call me, Ishmael. Feel absolutely free to do so.
From The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All:
Died on me finally.
From The Go-Between:
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
From Elmer Gantry:
Elmer Gantry was drunk.
All of these beginnings intrigue me and make me want to read more even though, to this day, I have never completed Moby Dick!
The beginning of your story should grab your readers. They should know of your Big Idea up front. What is it you are saying? What is this world you've created? What's the dilemma facing your character?
Why should we care?
If you have to explain to them that they'll be grabbed or intrigued in, say, chapter three and that they should just keep reading...then you've failed to start with a great beginning!
Try reading through the first three chapters of your current work. Did you start with the best chapter? I know in one of my books, my editor read the second chapter and said, "This is really where your story starts. This should be your first chapter."
And once I made the switch, I realized how right he was. The fist chapter now had the reader in the middle of the action instead of a long scene explaining some things about the characters. The story now read faster and started off with conflict and intrigue.
See? Sometimes it is best to listen to your editor.
Now You Know
John Grisham is well known for starting his books with intrigue and mood. He knows how to begin a story and grab a reader instantly.
Now you know some tips to help you start off your story with a BANG or conflict or intrigue. Always make sure to keep your audience in mind.
I write for middle grade kids who have constant visual stimulation throughout their day: Images flashing on the computer screen, televisions screen, smart phones, or iPods. If my story doesn't grab them from the first few paragraphs, it probably never will.
I have my work cut out for me.
You know for whom you write. Now, start off your story in such a way that your readers will never forget it!