Writing Tips 101 by Darlene Foster
With a blank screen or piece of paper in front of you, how do you begin? If you are a plotter, you will probably have a bit of an idea. If you are a pantser, you will be hoping an idea turns up. Plotter or panster, it is never easy to start a story. The important thing is to just start. Once you get the beginning down, it sets the tone of the story and you can move on. There is a good chance you will return to the beginning and change it at some point. In fact, you may change it many times before the story is ready for publication.
This is because those first few lines are so important. They need to hook the reader and make them want to continue reading. Many people pick up a book and open it to the first page, if they like what they read and it makes them want to know more, they will buy or borrow it. If not, they will put it down and move on to another book. And we don’t want that.
In this fast-paced world, a book that starts with a lot of description, even if well written, will often be set aside. Detailed descriptions of a character or characters at the beginning can also be off-putting. Those details can be incorporated as you proceed with the story. It won’t matter to the reader if your character has long blond hair if she isn’t doing something interesting that makes you wonder what will happen next. If her long blond hair is caught in something, preventing her from escaping her antagonist, you will have hooked the reader. Starting with the weather is seldom a good idea either, in spite of the classic, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Starting with action, intrigue, surprise, humour or something unusual or unexpected is always a better way to hook a reader. Something that indicates there is going to be a problem will cause the reader to want to know what the problem is and how it will be resolved.
Think of some of your favourite books. What was it about the beginning that grabbed your attention? There are famous opening lines often quoted, like the beginning of Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities.
Here are a couple of beginnings I like.
My name is Calvin Sinclair, I’m eleven years old and I have a confession… I killed my brother.
From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle
“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B White
Marley was dead, to begin with. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Whether writing a short story or a novel, just get it started but return to the beginning later and make sure it has a hook to catch the reader’s interest. Many authors admit to moving the original beginning further on in the book and starting at a more exciting place. Some get rid of the first draft’s beginning altogether. That’s OK. It served its purpose.
As Will Rogers once said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This applies to life but also to writing stories.
Brought up on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, Darlene Foster dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. Following her dreams, she’s now an award-winning author of children’s travel adventure books, short stories and travel articles. She lives on the Costa Blanca of Spain with her husband and dog, Dot. She is a member of Writers’ Ink.