Let’s start at the beginning. Well, duh. Where else are you going to start?
Beginnings are one of those things in the writing world that seem to be their own entity. If you don’t nail the first sentence, the first page, the first chapter, you risk the chance of not having your book read at all, by either readers or agents/editors. There is so much pressure to make a good start to your book.
How many times have you met someone and decided instantly whether or not you liked them? We do this all the time. Someone appears attractive for whatever reason—nice clothing, friendly smile, good personality—you get an impression of someone before they even speak. That’s what your book cover does. A good cover tells the potential reader what to expect when a book opens its mouth.
So that means the first page is that moment when you meet someone for the first time. The handshake, the greeting, the whole “what’s your name and what do you do” of getting to know someone. After a short conversation, chances are, you know whether or not this person is your type of friend, colleague, date, whatever.
How does your book hold up in the first meeting? Is that first sentence a limp handshake or a bone-crushing grip? Does your first page ramble on and on about nothing? Is it all small talk: “How’s the weather?” or “Did you see the game?”
Think for a minute about someone you met who you had an instant connection with. Chances are, it wasn’t their comment on the heat or snow that made you want to talk to them. It was something in their eyes or smile, it was something they said or did that connected. It was not observing them sitting on a bench staring off into space that made you think, “This person is worth knowing!”
Take a look at your first page. Does it involve a description of the weather or the setting? Does it talk about how bored your character is or that he or she is staring off into space, thinking? Or does it start with something happening? Is there movement? And most importantly, is it told in a way that makes it worth reading?
Your first sentence is critical because it’s the first thing after the cover that a reader knows about your book. And it should set the stage for the rest of the story. There should be enough in your first sentence to hint at the main conflict of the story.
A few basics to consider:
1. Start with weather.
2. Start with dialogue (it’s too vague–who’s talking and to whom, etc.).
3. Start with something that’s not part of the bigger picture.
4. Start with a dream.
5. Start too soon before the initial moment of conflict (the inciting incident that will set things in motion).
1. Create intrigue so that the reader starts wondering something about your character and the situation.
2. Start with action–something must be happening.
3. Give a hint of what’s to come in both tone and conflict.
After writing the first page of my current WIP novel at least 6 times (on top of many, many edits), I have learned one valuable piece of information. Don’t worry about the beginning until the end. Just start writing.
If you spend time at the beginning worrying too much about your beginning, you may never actually write a beginning. Once you finish writing and start editing, the beginning will become more clear. It’ll be easier to judge when to start and how to start in order to convey the important things. Even if you think you have a brilliant beginning, chances are, by the end of your novel, you’ll see significant changes that need to be made.
Luckily, there are a bunch of contests and blogs out there, willing to critique first pages. These have helped me tremendously. I suggest checking out Ellen Brock’s First Page Fridays. Also, Brenda Drake and The Authoress have contests running constantly for this sort of thing (and query letters).
Stay open to comments and possibilities. With my latest project, it wasn’t until I started my MC in a new location and altered the first scene that I landed on a good beginning. My problem was, I had been so set on starting at a certain place, I couldn’t see that it wasn’t the best opening. Once I sat back and forced myself to think of another start, I came up with something better than the thing I had been stubbornly holding onto.
What’s been your biggest struggle in writing the beginning?