Hook the reader from the first page, first paragraph, first line.
Catch an agent’s attention from the get-go–they don’t have time to read until the action pics up after chapter five.
Everyone knows you have to SMASH your beginning. You should start out with a scene that evokes emotion, shows not tells the important traits of your main characters, and sets up the conflict for the rest of your book. But you also have to start with a scene that is true to the rest of your story. You should clue the reader in as to what kind of a story they’re going to be reading.
Personally, I like dark romances with super-protective alpha males who aren’t afraid to fight for what they want and paranormal creatures who feel real…but I still have to be able to sleep at night without thinking I’m being stalked by something that could actually be lurking in the shadows behind my door. Know what I mean? (I want to be swept away to another world when I bend back the binding, not living in my own with creepy creatures.) If I open a book in a bookstore and skim the first few pages yet read nothing about a vampire, shapeshifter, or some kick-ass magic wielded by some kick-ass hero or heroine, I’m going to pick up another book and try again.
Yesterday someone asked me, “How did you know where to start your book?”
I said, “Start from the moment your hero or heroine’s life changes. Throw in some major conflict, possibly introduce them (and me as the reader) to the other leads in the story. And let the reader know what style of story (and style of writing) they can expect from the rest of your book.”
The person said, “I have this idea…(then went into the idea which I’m not about to share here *wink), and the beginning is rock solid. After that, though, they have to go on this journey (think Lord of the Rings without the focus), and then the action picks up again later…about a third of the way through.”
Let me say, firstly, that I’m one opinion…and I’m not even published yet so I don’t know how much my opinion counts anyway. Secondly, I think their idea was good. They could easily start at the third point in the book, when the characters are flush into the action, and weave backstory in as they go. Their book wouldn’t feel like a let down. (Meaning: If I started a book with a kick-ass action scene teeming with conflict, that’s what I’d expect all the way through. If I came to a hundred page hiatus with nothing but a single character’s journey, I’d probably put down the book and push it aside.)
So YES beginnings have to be good. YES, beginnings are important. YES, you should spend time crafting your beginning so that you can catch the attention of that coveted agent, then that coveted editor.
But this is true for the rest of your story. You should put just as much time into the last two-thirds of your book as you did making the first-third shine.
Now I have to put my own words to use. I’m working on the last 20K of Immortal, Beloved right now. The climax is approaching. All my characters are joining together to fight the impending evil. Oh, I’m excited. Someone’s going to try to unleash creatures from hell…and he’s going to succeed to a certain degree…but my characters will put up one hell of a fight. Some will die. Some will live. All will love.
Today, put your beginning aside. Stop mashing it up. Take a look at your middle and grow from there.
2 thoughts on “Beginnings”
Good advice 🙂 My conflict at the beginning tends to be quite weak, I go for atmosphere and world building etc, though it runs the risk of slowing the story down before it's even had chance to pick up. I think that's a common problem in any traditional fantasy, which often focuses on the journey/quest – What's a good point of conflict to begin? Thanks for pointing it out 🙂
Jamie–Atmosphere/world building is a necessity to pull the reader into the world you've created, but SHOW the world through the characters eyes by what they're doing in it. It's like the saying "Don't tell me about the coffee shop. Show me what's going on inside its walls." Through that showing the readers will know your world without you having to spell it out for them. It would eliminate the narrative voice and push the reader into the speakers head. As for a good point of conflict to begin? Begin at the Point of Change. Begin somewhere where everything flips on its head. My current WIP begins with my shapeshifting villian torturing a very powerful vampire elder. He wants a crucial piece of information that only she knows, and she would rather die than give it up. BUT by killing her the way he does, (which I'm not going to spill 😉 he finds out everything he needs to know anyway (despite her bravery), which makes him super powerful through the book. Let the killing spree begin! And he (being the villian) should succeed more than the hero/heroine so that the reader never knows how things are going to play out.I could have started the book with him in his chamber, deciding upon a course of action. I could have started with him plotting her demise. I could have had him hunting her down. But the moment he SUCCEEDED was the moment of change. And my book has a whole lot of action–killing, death shades, battles, tension, and dark, dark, dark, that I wanted to start off with that so the reader knows exactly what they'll be getting from the rest of the pages.Of course that's just my .02, take it with a grain of salt. 🙂 Does that help?