Today I want to talk about what makes the beginning of a book good and the elements that it should have.
This week’s topic is something that has really caught my attention these past few weeks because I’m editing my novel, Imaginary friends, and well… it’s not going great.
My editing was well on track, I had highlighted exactly what I needed to fix in my story but then just as I started putting in the changes I realized something. The beginning of my story is not in line with the rest of my story. I had opened it wrong and if someone were to read it they might read a line and put it down again because it’s just not gripping. So after I threw a tantrum in my room and ate some chocolate spread right out the jar I got back to work. I went right back to the basics of storytelling and that’s what I want to share with you now.
The beginning of the book is what sells the story, it introduces your character and genre to your reader so it really is important.
What make the beginning of a story interesting?
The basics that your beginning needs.
• Character – the who behind it all
• Setting- the where that is dependent on both place and time.
• Conflict- this is a must in any story.
• Style- understand, your whole story will look like this.
Now those are big things I can nearly write posts for on their own. I’m not planning to do that but hey if you want to know more just ask.
Let’s start with character.
I’m going to assume you know your point of view character really well. If you don’t then you should go sit down and invite him or her to talk with you.
You get a lot of different stories but the one thing that normally has people continue reading a story is that they like the character. So in your first paragraph it is best to introduce your main character. Not an unimportant side character because that’s like lying to your readers. You need to show them what the story is about so open with your main character or a similarly interesting and important character that will be with them throughout the entire story. (that’s of course if you don’t kill them at the end of act two.)
When I say introduce though a lot of people might think I mean that they should launch into something that goes…Charles had red hair and blue eyes…
No don’t do that. That’s not interesting and it doesn’t show your readers what they should be expecting from the rest of the story.
Introduce your character as a person beyond how they look and really just make it interesting. Show your reader who your character is from line one.
Extra character that you should introduce in the beginning or first act really depend on what you are writing. Here is the general rating from importance.
- love interest
The next big thing your beginning needs to make clear is the setting.
There is nothing quite as confusing as when someone is on the phone one minute and driving in a carriage the next. I’m sure you can do this just make sure that your reader knows that this is something you will be doing. You want to pull your reader into the story and for that they need to know how the things around them look.
If you love world building like me then I have to warn you however not to overdo it. I have read stories where people push the reader out of the story because they have paragraphs and paragraphs of description for something that isn’t relevant right at that moment. I know you love this creation you had built but please you need your reader hooked before they will truly care.
Show your reader where they are but don’t show them only where they are but also what is happening in this place. Got it?
Conflict is one of those things that work side by side with good characters. If you have good character but there is no conflict your reader likes them but they don’t see why they should be concerned. They won’t keep reading because there is no answer to find out.
Just because you have a big war going on doesn’t mean that it’s interesting either, you need to make your conflict personal to your character so it becomes personal to the reader. For the first scene in the story you might also want to make it a more immediate conflict such as an argument or new information that needs to be acted on now.
You need to grip onto your reader and pull them in. So do that. Pull them as close to the personal side of your story as you can.
The last thing you need to show your reader in a good beginning is style
Style is basically a mix of smaller elements that form how you write. First person or third? Past or present tense? What kind of words do you use? Those are all part of style.
Style isn’t something I can tell you how to do because no two writers have the same style and that’s okay. Writing styles tend to grow with the writer and the characters but it’s still important to establish at the beginning of the story.
I don’t know about you but when I read a book that’s written in third person and it suddenly switches to first it really throw me off. Or if the book is written really funny at first and then by the second act it stops having any humour and goes all serial killer on you, I will stop reading.
I have stopped reading a book specifically for that reason. Not because the dark parts where bad but because that harsh change made me feel like I lost the story. If you promise your reader that your story is going to be a horror then keep it a horror. If it’s a romance in act one keep it a romance in act two.
If you want it to be both then make sure that when the horror comes you don’t stop having a romance thread and better yet show your readers that it will be both from act one.
Before I close this post off I figured that I should show you what my first line is currently settled on.
Charles’s breath came in ragged and his legs were starting to ace. Shouldn’t he be fit from all these years of running away from flesh eating monsters? His burning lungs answered no.
So what do you think? If you read that first line would you maybe take a look at the rest of it?
I hope you manage to nail your story’s start, if you’ve already got a great start feel free to share your first line. If you’re not happy with your start at the moment tell me why.
What do you think makes a good start for a story?