This is the first in a series of writing articles. These are not writing tips for working writers, but hopefully an insight into the writing process for those not writing full-time (or at all).
One question that comes up a lot among writers, especially those new to the process, is where do I start my story? This is a very good question as the beginning is the writer’s only opportunity to get a reader’s attention and keep it until the end. It’s also where a lot of problems with a story begin, but there are some things a writer can keep in mind when working on a beginning.
Now, I write romance and a key element of that genre is the hero and heroine usually meet if not in the very first scene, by the end of the first chapter. This is because in a romance the story of the hero and heroine’s relationship is the key element, not backstory, or description of the world they live in, or a plot element happening to other characters. Personally, I think having lead characters introduced right away would work with any genre of fiction so a good beginning should start with them first.
A common way some writers like to start a story is with a flashback scene (or chapter) For me, a flashback scene (or chapter) at the beginning of a story can work if doesn’t feel like a character is narrating it from the present, future, or from the great-beyond, and if it also connects to the present story. I’ve read flashback sequences that I couldn’t figure out how they connected to the present and if a reader has to ask that question, then they’re going to be pulled out of the story.
Another way a reader can be pulled out of a story at the beginning is what I refer to as info-dumping. You don’t need to walk up to the first pages of your story and dump out all the backstory of your characters and research you have done. Communicate ONLY the key information you need your readers to know through your character’s actions and dialogue. And when it comes to dialogue, don’t do a marathon back-and-forth session trying to get all that information on the page. You’ve got plenty of time to reveal what you need to and if you need to know when to do that, let your characters guide you.
And by characters guiding your story I mean reveal what you need to as they learn of it. This eliminates any distance between the reader and the story itself because for characters to truly engage the reader, the writer needs to take themselves out the story. Your characters are the best guide for where to take your story and listening to them at the beginning will give you a solid foundation to start your story, and finish it.
Finally, you don’t have to have a flash-bang beginning, just something that engages the reader by getting the story into motion. Make that beginning come alive and get that reader wanting to know what happens next. Because if the reader is engaged from the very beginning, they’ll stay to the end. And that is the ultimate goal of every storyteller and to reach that goal, you have to start at the beginning.