Every writer knows the importance of beginnings. The start of your story needs to do so much: capture the interest of the reader immediately, set the scene and tone, introduce a main theme or character, and, in a really good story, set up the ending as well.
No pressure then!
With all this going on in your mind, it can be difficult to start at all. But there is a better way to approach beginnings, and it goes like this:
First, make a few rough notes of what your story is about. Who are the main characters? What, in brief, will happen to them? How do you want the reader to feel while they are reading this story? How do you want the reader to feel at the end?
A sense of an ending: Some writers feel restricted if they know exactly how a story will end, preferring to let the events unfold in their minds as they write, but it helps to shape a successful beginning if you have at least a sense of how your story might be resolved.
Next, make decisions about narrative voice and tense. First person, past or present? Third person, single viewpoint? Third person, multiple? Omniscient narrator? These decisions will have a huge impact on how your story develops, and it’s best to play around with them now. Try out a few sample scenes in each voice and chose which best fits your story.
Now, and not before, is the time to think about beginnings. I suggest you write at least four – yes, four! – different beginnings, but they need only be 50 words or so. Try starting your story:
- In the middle (in medias res), a useful way of getting the reader right into the middle of the action, or pulling forward a powerful scene. This is effective in many different genres, and can be a seamless way to introduce characters without too much background or clunky exposition.
- At the end. Another powerful technique, with the intrigue and tension of the story coming from the reader’s desire to know how the characters ended up like this. This type of beginning is often used in thrillers, but is also effective in other genres – Miranda Dickinson’s Welcome To My World has the reader meet the protagonist locked in a toilet at the end (or very near the end) of the story, revealing the events leading up to this point through flashbacks. The time shift can be handled in a number of ways – watch out for my blog post on handling time shifts soon.
- Just before the beginning. This is particularly useful if you are trying to convey a certain tone or mood; the opening scene could be an atmospheric description of the story’s setting or simply used to frame the story to come.
- Begin at the beginning! Sometimes your story will work best of all by simply starting the narrative at the beginning. In fact, all of the above techniques are useful primarily to help the writer understand the true beginning of their story. Give it a go!