Where do I start?

Jody Lebel
Published on: March 2013
Resist the temptation to start too early. Telling us about your character waking up, taking a shower, and eating breakfast is not compelling reading. If your heroine is going to attend a party, begin the story as she enters the party not as she is sitting in front of a mirror combing her hair. Start the page at the first moment of conflict. Jump into your tale midstream and have her start swimming.

Also avoid telling us what the character is wearing or eating or drinking unless it is important to the story or to character development. No one really cares, especially on the first few pages.

Choose a natural starting point and write your way into the story. A complicated tale may have many places it could begin so choose the most interesting facet to begin. You need to hook your reader right away to get the sale. If your story is about a man who is going to rob a bank, start with him handing the note to the teller. Don't start with his problems in high school and how he married the wrong woman and how he recently got fired from his job and what led up to his decision to rob this bank. Those details are important and will flesh out your character, as well as show his motivation, but work them in a little at a time as back story. Avoid info dump; that is, flooding the reader with details all in one lump. Don't put it in a prologue. Most readers don't read prologues.
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Choose your tense and point of view. Most readers are not aware of tense and POV but editors/agents are. Keep your writing smooth and consistent and try not to jump around. Although you will see well known authors writing that way, they know what they're doing. As a new writer you want your readers to see the least amount of stitches in the fabric, so create as few seams as possible.

Don't disappoint the reader by starting out with a bang and then going nowhere. You must fulfill your promise to the reader; the promise you gave him in that first sentence and paragraph. If this is purport-ed to be a funny book, make it funny to the end. Don't let it lose momentum or you'll lose your reader.

Also, if your opening is strange or misleading, you will have trouble living up to the expectation. Never cheat the reader.

Don't get ahead of the reader. The story has to flow with a natural sequence. You know the neighbor is a vampire but you haven't clued the reader in yet so they may get confused. Few readers will continue a story they can't follow.

Don't start out with overt terror or overly gruesome details. Feed gore in your story in little pieces. A little goes a long way. If you start off strong, you will have to stay strong and most people won't be able to stomach eighty thousand words of bloody mess and heart stopping fear.

Avoid long setting descriptions, a common error for new writers. Describing the sky and the clouds and the sunset is not going to grab your reader. Save all that for the poetry books. Fill in the necessary information and get on with the story.

That goes double for starting off with a dream sequence. If the reader gets involved with the story and then finds out none of it was real, it was all a dream, he will feel cheated.

Start out with a strong character. First time novelists often try to lure the reader into the story by holding back the main character. Establish your main character's situation right away. If you manage to get your reader to care about your hero/heroine, the story line really becomes secondary as the reader will follow those characters wherever the story takes them. Beloved characters can turn one book into a series.

Keep the reader guessing from the start. While you don't want to confuse your reader, giving them a puzzle or unanswered question is very effective. They will keep reading to find the answer.
Avoid starting out with pages of dialogue. You must build a relation-ship between your character and your reader. That's difficult to do through cold dialogue on the first page when the reader really doesn't know the heart of who is speaking. Dialogue mixed with a bit of narrative works well as it reads quickly, and readers like white pages but not in the very beginning of your book.

Extra tip: Once you reach the end, revisit the beginning. The original story line often changes as the tale unfolds. A new opening line may be necessary to fit the revamped story. Happy writing.
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