I like to think of the beginning as the introduction. It has a lot of responsibility. You need to introduce your setting, characters, and character goals/conflicts while capturing the reader’s attention and avoiding backstory. Remember: the beginning marks the start of the story (not the start of the characters’ lives or the establishment of their hometown).
There’s no set length for a beginning. It can be the first chapter or the first few chapters. A lot of it will depend on the type of book you’re writing, as well as your writing style. Take as long as you need without letting the story lull.
So how do you start? I polled the pros and pooled together their advice. I’ve taken their suggestions and added it to my experience to present you with Beginning Writing Tips:
- Start writing. If you worry too much about getting the beginning just right, you’ll never get anywhere. Sit down and write.
- Evaluate your work (and be honest!). Things to look for:
- Where does the story really start? If you started with backstory, be willing to cut (I had to cut the first five chapters – it’s okay).
- What’s happening? There doesn’t have to be an explosion or bank robbery, but something specific to the story needs to be going on (irrelevant action and everyday action don’t work – we don’t want a car chase in a sweet romance, nor do we want to watch the hero take a shower and brush his teeth).
- Edit, move on, edit again. Beginnings are hard to write. Obsessing over it can make you a bit crazy. You want to make sure you take the time to honestly and carefully edit it, but then move on. Write the rest of the story. You’ll end up re-reading and revising your manuscript multiple times. That includes your ending. If it’s not quite perfect on your first shot, don’t worry. Keep writing, and come back to it.
When you go back to edit your beginning you’ll want to focus on your hook – that thing on the first page (in the first paragraph, the first line) that grabs your reader (agent and editor) and pulls them into the story. We’ll look at that next.
For now – what tricks/techniques have you learned for writing your beginnings?
(Originally posted 5/12/12)