Friday, May 1, 2015

Ask the Author (Anything!): How to Start a Story

Hi! I was wondering: how do you start a story? Do you just randomly start off somewhere or is there a specific reason you start it at a certain point? Any tips on how to write the intro/beginning of a fiction?

The beginning of your story is one of the most important pieces of your narrative. Here’s my top tips for starting your story off right:

1. Start at the beginning

Let me clarify what I mean by “beginning.” When I say “start at the beginning” I mean start at the exact moment when the central conflict of the story begins. Not all authors will begin their story with this moment of initiation and will instead start a few scenes prior, but the most intriguing and immersive stories open with the moment that the protagonist’s story truly starts.

Think about your favorite movie. What is the opening scene? If the film is well-made, the opening scene probably ties directly into the main plot itself and is more-or-less the crux of what the film is all about. In How to Train Your Dragon, we open with Hiccup capturing Toothless, for example.

2. Open in an exciting place

Make your opening scene interesting. Make sure that it is both relative to the plot and exciting. Open with action, or with an intense moment or conflict of interest. Which story is more likely to snag your attention: (1) a novel that opens with the main character packing up and going to school, or (2) a novel which opens with the main character in a fight with the school bully?

Remember that your readers have short attention spans. You only have a few seconds to capture your reader’s attention enough to keep them reading your book. Ensure that your opening wastes no time getting started, and that it is as exciting as it is relevant to the plot.

3. Introduce your protagonist in a compelling way

You should establish your protagonist in your opening scene. Put your protagonist in a situation that best demonstrates who they are and what makes them interesting and different.

4. Introduce a goal that your protagonist seeks to achieve

As soon as possible, introduce a goal for your protagonist, even if it’s as simple as getting a glass of water or getting a piece of food out of their teeth. This goal should line up to the greater goings on within the plot, of course, but failing (or succeeding) that goal should drive the protagonist toward the bigger story at hand. Readers find stories compelling when the protagonist has a goal in mind and actively seeks to achieve it.

5. Create a one-chapter “arc”

Most strong openings are a story arc in-and-of themselves. They are akin to self-contained short stories, much like the first level or area in a story-based videogame. A conflict should be encountered and resolved within that one scene, and your readers should be able to absorb the first chapter of your book with that mindset. Of course, being a part of a larger novel, the opening scene or chapter should leave an ending hint at what is to come. Aside from this foreshadowing, however, the chapter itself should be largely self-contained.

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