May is Creative Beginnings Month. What better time to focus on the beginnings of our stories?
The first thing readers see is the beginning of your story. Browsers pick up the book and usually scan the first couple of pages to see if the book catches their interest, so you want to hook them right away. The opening hooks you use draw the readers into your characters’ world and keeps them keep turning the pages.
Here are eight tips for creating great beginnings for your stories.
- Start where the action starts. If the action doesn’t start until the character gets out of jail, meets the villain, is commissioned to hunt a treasure, or meets a future spouse, don’t bore the reader with a litany of ordinary routines meant to show the character’s normal world. A few sentences will do the job to create ordinary. You don’t need an entire chapter.
Which captures your attention more: a chapter telling us how the heroine has gained too much weight and her clothes don’t fit, or she feels too unattractive because of her weight to get a guy’s attention, or these sentences?
The entire fire and police department had a great view of Alice Archer’s oversized rear, including the very handsome new neighbor she’d hoped to impress. Who knew she wouldn’t fit through the tiny basement window? She probably looked like a big white marshmallow with two toothpick legs wiggling helplessly from the bottom. She should have worn black capris. At least she might have seemed a size smaller from the embarrassing angle. As soon as the fire department got her unstuck, if they got her unstuck, she was giving up eating.
- Taylor your beginning to give your reader a glimpse of the story’s flavor. In the example above, I meant to relay humor. If my story had been about suspense, I might have said:
Alice Archer shone her flashlight onto the open basement window. The beam of light didn’t do much to illuminate the darkened, spooky space. She hated basements. They always reminded her of bad horror stories. She looked at the tiny window. No way would her oversized rear fit through the opening. The only other alternative was to break a first floor window and pray the owner’s Dobermans didn’t awake. Or the alarm didn’t go off. Or her handsome new neighbor didn’t catch her breaking in.
- Forget the back story when crafting your beginning. Writer’s love their back story. But too much too soon will slow your story down. In the examples above I could have stopped to tell the reader about why Alice had become overweight or why she was trying to enter a house thorough a window, but by giving minimal back story here, I propel the reader forward to see what’s happening and why. Back story is important, but you must feed it to the readers slowly, and not on the first page.
- Start with the right character’s POV. Who has the best story to tell, the most to lose, or is in the most danger? In the above examples, it’s Alice, so that’s why I started with her POV.
- Use an external hook with a ticking bomb. (Not a literal bomb, but something that they have to race against the clock to achieve) Nothing makes a reader turn the page faster than the ticking bomb. Not only does the countdown create suspense, but it tells your reader this is a fast-moving book.
- OR Use an internal hook that will make readers care about the character. In other words, make me care so much about this character that I want to see what happens to him. Some buzz words to consider when using an internal hook might be: want, need, or desire. Make me see what he or she is longing for and hint a why they are not going to get it easily.
- Or include both external and internal hooks in your beginning.
- Make sure your hook is within the first two pages, preferably the first paragraph. Most browsing potential readers are not going to turn more than two pages to see if they think they will like the book. Make those two pages the tightest, pathos-filled or drama-filled paragraphs you can create in order to reel in the reader.
Do you have any Great Beginning tips to share?