You’re writing fiction. You know that if your readers don’t read past the first couple of pages, they won’t buy your story. They certainly won’t join your mailing list or buy your next story.
So, you need to put some thought into your story beginnings. You need to start strong. In a sense, your story’s ending is in the beginning, so in addition to starting strong, you also need to know how your story will end up. (By “story” I mean novel, short story, novella – any piece of fiction.)
If you’re familiar with Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat story plotting method, you’ll start your story with the Opening Image, the first “beat” in your story. Snyder’s final beat is the Final Image, which relates to the Opening Image.
A tip: in your first draft, don’t worry about your story’s beginnings. Too many writers spend days on a “great” beginning. Usually this wonderful beginning doesn’t get used because the story changes as you write it. Work on your beginning in your second draft.
Before we get to our fiction writing tips for beginnings, let’s look at some great first words, which keep readers reading. I’ve chosen these three stories because they’re romances I’ve recently read, there’s no deeper meaning than that to my choices.
The first is from Her Teddy Bear: Complete Collection, an erotic romance collection of novellas by Mimi Strong:
‘When my sister Nikki first told me about the blind date, I said to her, “If he’s so freakin’ fantastic, why don’t YOU go out with him?”’
Next, All Jacked Up, an erotic romance novel by Lorelei James, from her Rough Riders series:
‘Keely McKay’s lucky cowgirl boots kicked up clouds of dust as she paced across the wooden plank floor.’
And finally, from Mr. Perfect, by Linda Howard. This romantic suspense novel has a prologue, which clues us in to what happens later in the book. Much later. The book’s actual beginning, Chapter 1, Scene 1 starts with these words:
‘Jaine Bright woke in a bad mood.
Her neighbor, the blight of the neighborhood, had just roared home at 3 A.M.’
Would those three story beginnings keep you reading, if you were looking for a romance story? In just a few words, the authors have given readers not only a sense of the primary character, they’ve also established a conflict. Character and conflict are the two essentials you need to include in the beginnings of your stories.
1. Start With Your Primary Character: an Original (Real) Person.
Victorian novelists could get away with waffling about the countryside and the weather in their story beginnings. We can’t. Readers expect to meet an intriguing character, to whom they can relate, as soon as possible after your story starts.
In our examples above, the authors introduce the viewpoint character immediately, so that readers can start getting to know the character. We’re in no doubt that the three heroines we meet are strong women. Each has a singular character: she’s not a generic woman. She’s an original.
2. Conflict: Start With a Bang, or at Least a Thump.
Would you be inclined to keep reading if the above three authors had started their stories by simply describing these women? You might. On the other hand, you might be inclined to think… Meh, who cares? And click away, looking for a story which offered a little more. That “little more” is conflict.
Not only do readers want to meet an original character in your story beginnings, they also want something which inspires emotion. They want to feel. Your original character has a problem, which inspires emotion. There’s no need to start your story with a bang – a big conflict. Introducing a big conflict before we get to know a character is a mistake. We don’t care enough about the character yet to be worried if she’s fired from her job, held up at gunpoint, or discovers her husband’s corpse in the garage.
So there you have it. Two essential fiction writing tips for great story beginnings. Happy writing. 🙂
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Updated: February 8, 2018
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