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Getting Beginnings Right

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Thu Nov 11, 2010 6:49 pm
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Merlin34 says...

The beginning of the story will be the most important part. It is the part that must hook the reader, and make them want to read on. It's easy to screw up and make the reader start clawing their eyes out. That being said, here is a list of the four things to not do in the beginning.

1. Do Not Bore the Reader
Do not begin by describing with painstaking detail your protagonist's morning ablutions. Do not begin with a purple prose description of a landscape or a character. Do not begin with a myth or legend of the world that has nothing to do with the rest of the story. Do not begin with a prophecy.

2. Do Not Begin With a Barrage of Information
Do not begin by giving the name, eye color, hair color, shoe size, and title of 50,000 characters, aside from your viewpoint character. Preferably none, but if you must, only describe those who will become important to the plot later and those who you absolutely cannot introduce at any other point.

3. Do Not Begin With a Cliché
Beginning with any mention of Dark Lords, Destiny, or your awkward and somewhat clumsy 16 year-old heroine moving to a new school will turn off the majority of serious readers.

4. Do Not Begin With a Prologue that is Radically Different From Chapter 1
Prologue: Epic battle between rebel leader and Dark Lord. Good. Exciting. Yay. Although cliché.
Chapter 1: Stupid farmboy describing his surroundings with words that he shouldn’t even know, being most likely illiterate, and wondering who his real parents are. Bad. Boring. Snore.

Also, do not begin with a prologue that makes no sense until very late in the story (or even in a sequel).

5. Do Not Begin By Confusing the Reader
Everyone likes a little mystery at the beginning of a story. What many people do not like is an author who deliberately withholds information that shouldn't be kept from the reader, a prime (and common) example being the viewpoint character's name. Unless the person has no name or doesn't know his name (and even then, you should give him a nickname instead of saying "the boy" or "the knight"), there is no excuse to keep it hidden. The promise of learning what combination of sounds you've seen fit to assign to this character is not very tempting.

6. Begin With Your Book's True Style
Bait-and-switch tactics are never good ideas when writing. If you start out light and funny but then descend into a dark and gritty gore-fest, you won't please anyone. People who were hoping for a light and funny story will be turned off, and people who like gory books wouldn't have even started reading.

7. Do Not Begin With Made-Up Words
Beginning with every fourth word as something like "Olampir" or "arandkarnters" does not intrigue readers. It ticks them off.

One thing you should do is begin with your best foot forward. If you're good at writing humor, begin with something funny. If you're good with imagery and mood, start by setting the scene. I'd rather read a book that begins with a hilarious joke than one with a poorly-written action scene.

I'd also like to talk more in-depth about prologues. Some people absolutely despise the things, others embrace them. I think that they can work, and sometimes may be helpful, like if the very first part of the story must be told from the point of view of someone dead or absent from the rest. Just remember these three points, as well as #4 from the previous list.

1. Ask yourself your reason for including a prologue. If it's because lots of other stories do, or because you want another thousand or so words to qualify it as a novel, get rid of it. On second thought, print it out, soak it in gasoline, and burn it. If your reason is because you want to explain backstory, ask yourself: does it have to explained at all, yet alone before anything else? In most cases, the answer is no.
2. Make your prologue short. Ideally, it shouldn't be over a page or two.
3. Make sure your readers can easily jump from the prologue to the first chapter without any confusion. Ideally, characters or things from the prologue should be immediately present in Chapter 1.

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Fri Nov 12, 2010 3:13 pm
Idraax says...

I noticed you don't mention beginning a story with dreams. Is it ok to do that or should it not be done at all?
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Fri Nov 12, 2010 11:32 pm
Merlin34 says...

I suppose that might fall under "do not begin with a cliche". And I wouldn't do it, but I'm not going to say that it shouldn't be done. Writing IS a creative process, after all. If I did do it, I'd make it clear from the beginning that it's a dream. People don't like being led down a path of epic fantasy adventure and then finding out the protagonist is an overweight 16 year-old MMO freak, or what have you.
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Thu Mar 17, 2011 2:51 am
fading-dream says...

I have to disagree with making dreams obvious immediately. Don't go out of your way to make it appear real, but don't go and spill the beans immediately either. It would have to depend upon the story and what significance the dream has. If it's a vision, don't start the story with that, but if the dreams are a primary part of the entire story, then I say go for it. Another tip I have is dive in. This would go along with making an interesting beginning. Personally, I find it more forgivable that a book slows in the middle than start slow. Preferably, there wouldn't be any slow down at all but I understand why there could be.

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Fri Apr 01, 2011 6:02 am
Yuriiko says...

I have problems with beginning a short story. This is a very helpful thread. Thanks!
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Mon Nov 14, 2011 6:12 am
Crouching Tuna says...

Limyaael's fantasy rant, isn't it?

Did you give proper credits?
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Mon Nov 21, 2011 7:23 pm
Merlin34 says...

No, it isn't.
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Fri Mar 02, 2012 3:46 am
EloquentDragon says...

Dreams and flashbacks at beginning? BAAAAd idea.
Also, start fresh with dialogue! (I like to do that, at least...but only sometimes)
And DON'T say, whatever you do "It was a dark and stormy night" OR "She stared out the window..." OR "It was one of those days..." please, pretty please, for the sake of humanity please!!!

BTW, number four sounds a lot like....Eragon. Part of the reason why I hated that/those book(s) (Despite my user name, (heh)
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Mon Mar 05, 2012 9:22 pm
Stori says...

By the way... if you have to have a prophecy, just know that they don't tend to rhyme.

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Wed Mar 07, 2012 7:25 pm
ArahAkachi1 says...

Would it be okay sto start it out with like a flashback of the past (15 years ago), and then Chapter 1 is the main character (from the flashback when he was a baby) is reporting on the event. That is okay, correct?
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Wed Mar 07, 2012 9:37 pm
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Rosendorn says...

Arah, there is no "correct" in writing. Write it and see how you like it, and how other people like it!
A writer is a world trapped in a person— Victor Hugo

Ink is blood. Paper is bandages. The wounded press books to their heart to know they're not alone.

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Wed Oct 23, 2013 9:29 pm
GlitterGabbi says...

I agree with Rosey :3
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