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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1 comment:

  1. 1) Lately I've been growing kinda partial to Curse of the Black Pearl of Pirates fame, which is kind of odd in that regard. When you think Pirates, Jack Sparrow naturally comes to mind, but he's not really the hero of the stories, is he? He's a strong supporter and a main player to be sure, but the first three films are about Will and Elizabeth and the openings reinforce that. It kind of leads to an awkward story in On Stranger Tides when Jack is finally free to take the helm, but Barbossa seems like he's got more invested in the search for the Fountain of Youth and Black Beard than Jack does (at least when the movie starts).

    2) I've gotta go with Magic Kaito for great starts. The legend of a gentleman thief, his connection to our protagonist and his motives for taking up the mantle of Criminal 1412 Kaito Kid are all neatly wrapped up in a pretty fluidly paced opening (a subtitled anime version is also on Crunchyroll and it's easily worth a look).

    3) Eden of the East. Twelve individuals granted ten billion yen each, which they can use in any way they want and a cell phone to call in any request to that effect. The only catch is that they must save Japan by the time their funds expire or they face certain death from Mr. Outside. Our protagonist is introduced to us in front of the White House, cell phone in one hand, a gun in the other, no memory of who he is and not a stitch of clothing on his body.

    4&5) These both immediately made me think of the intro to Final Fantasy VII, where Avalanche blows up the first Mako Reactor. Small potatoes in the long run and you'd never guess that this is all going to come to a head fighting a renegade soldier from Shinra's private army, but the scale is pretty grand as far as FF openings go. Ambush from a train, fight with a giant scorpion robot, move to escape from the impending detonation and make a getaway to the hideout in the slums. The first arc sets the stage, but the rest of the journey is so radically different beyond it, but each event flows from one to the other with such fluidity.