1. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    beginnings

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Tesoro, Jan 14, 2011.

    I dont know if there is /was already a thread like this, but since many of you are new i guess it couldnt hurt starting a new one.

    What first line of a book really grabs you? what is the ideal first sentence of a book that, when you open it, makes you unable to put it down? Or could you give an example of your favourite-beginnings of books you read?

    Im about to start revising my first draft and i realized i need to renew the beginnings as well, to make it more interesting and make people wanna read more right from the start.

    Im not saying im going to use your examples, but i was just curious which kind of beginnings that really WORKS? Dialogue right from the start? too much backstory is a no-no. that much i have understood. And you need to hook the reader from the start, raising questions or curiosity. but which is the best way to do that? I thought it would be fun to hear your opinions about this.

    Which is the best way to begin a novel?
     
  2. Dylan_Gardner
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    Dylan_Gardner New Member

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    I find that it's more of the first page that needs to grab my attention in a book otherwise I won't bother reading it.

    Books that start with dialogue or context are often boring for me.

    A clever description of a character or setting can work well, but nothing can beat pure action from the outset in my opinion.

    Another way is to start off ambiguously and ask questions that the reader wants to know the answer to.

    Anyway, this is what I think, but what do I know. My intro kind of stinks and the story gets better as you read on. Here is the first paragraph of my novel as an example:

    "In the end there was no pain, not in any physical form. Struck with such unimaginable force and accuracy. How? The world shivers, then freezes. A wave of nausea creeps over. My vision blurs, every object in sight unnaturally fuses together, the endless expanse of deep blue crumbles away. Only the faint remnants of day, of life, a dying sun remains. A torch to light my way."

    What do you think?
     
  3. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, there are a lot of options. There is no definite 'best' way.

    You could start with something outrageous that makes the reader do a double take and wonder if they really read it. Or you could start with something that makes the reader ask questions. Or you could speak directly to the reader so they feel involved from the start. Or you could start with something that appeals to the reader's curiosity. Or describe an atmosphere briefly evoking emotions. Or something humorous. Or with direct speech. And so forth.

    However you do it, you just have to make the reader engaged and want to read on. The opening line, and the general first couple of paragraphs, are the most important.
     
  4. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    dylan; i think the first line is good, i would continue reading from that one. Actually few books catch me right from the start, im quite picky, so i guess thats why i want to make my own novel start in the best way possible. Even for getting the readers attention right when it arrives to the publisher. Im not good at catching nuances in english texts though. What kind of novel are you writing? I think its good that your asentences varies in lenght and intensity. And with short sentences in the start. too many long sentences in the beginning is a bad way to start I think.
     
  5. vanarie
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    vanarie Senior Member

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    Anything that poses questions to the reader through a statement is a great way to open a story.

    Jim huddled on the ground with his friends. It wasn't the first time he'd been in a situation like this. He remembered back to when the pig got loose and bit Christopher in the ass. Plans are never impeccable when devised and executed in drunkenness. Today was different though; the operation would be carried out flawlessly. The whiskey and vodka foul-ups were a thing of the past. Today, they were going to break into the Beta-Kappa-Phi house and no one was going to stop them.

    This could be a horrible example but here goes:

    Why are they breaking into the Beta-Kappa-Phi house?
    Who are Jim and Christopher?
    How did Christoper get bitten in the ass by a pig?
     
  6. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Any beginning that starts a scene and lets me picture the action. It doesn't have to be violent or aggressive action; it can be anything from someone waking up to find he's a zombie (Elantris), a wizard reading a paperback book in his office when the mailman comes (Storm Front, Dresden Files book 1), a girl daydreaming as she minds her younger siblings ("Picture in Sand"), or a street urchin squeezing into the crawlspace under a tavern to collect the small change that has fallen through the cracks (The Way of Shadows).

    Come to think of it, most of what I read seems to start off with a scene of some sort. (A "scene" being where the characters are doing things for their own reasons, rather than an expo dump or a history lesson.)
     
  7. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I generally go with things that I hope will try to raise questions as well - really hard not to waffle since I tend to a lot. :p It's all about keeping things snappy if you're going to pose a question or theory. I like action in there somewhere, to give a sense of characters in the novel as soon as possible, but I tend to try and make their actions or thoughts contradictory to something as soon as possible. Starting with straight off action bores me as a writer if there isn't some thought to counterpoint it, but I guess I have no problem reading it... I just like trying to sound smart. :p

    More risky, but fun, is trying to give a character overload, by trying to come up with the most personality-stuffed opening evar. Doesn't usually work, but it's fun to try because sometimes you hit on a gem. :p Usually best to add in as a re-write when you know the characters better, as well. A lot of very cardboard character stereotypes can be played with in an opening paragraph, which just make you think "Bleeeh"... In all the unpublished things I've read, it usually is bad when a really obviously rich/preppy/privileged character is mouthing off about something in the opening lines and you're just like, "THAT is what you care about?"...
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm pleased with the starts of all of mine, I usually start with humour or mild conflict (son arguing with father, two boys fighting, alarm clock throwing, umbrella poking)

    Have to say one of the most famous and for me is most memorable openings is this not sure I even need to annotate where it is from:



    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's no 'best' way... there are many good ways and many bad ways... and not all ways are good or bad in all cases...

    it's said one shouldn't start by breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader, and that's generally true... but then there's:

    it's also said that one shouldn't start with an over-long sentence... but then there's:

    it's said as well, that one shouldn't start with dialog... but then there's:

    as you can see, there are glorious exceptions to such cautions, when the pen is in the hand of a master of wordsmithery...

    and you can also see, if you read as constantly as you should, that there are too many good/workable ways to start a work of fiction to count... just as there are too many poor/unworkable ways... and you won't know which side yours will fall on, till you write it and have others read it!
     
  10. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    thanks you all for great examples! Mammamaia: I guess you are right; there is no right or wrong, as long as it works! ;)
     
  11. Angharad Denby-Ashe
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    Angharad Denby-Ashe Member

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    I always thought beginning with "....and he looked over the dead body..." or some such shock beginning was a little gimmicky. That said I don't hold much for the first sentence being all that important either (though I would say that the last one is). I have found that the most important thing to do in the first page or two is to establish some link between the reader and the MC. It could be a sympathetic feeling, hate (especially if the MC is a character like House), or just some small thing everyone can identify with - my latest starts with my MC enjoying the freedom of riding bareback on a crisp morning - even if its only in a very small way begin to build the reader's relationship/interest with the MC and they will read on. :)
     
  12. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I'm really starting to hate all the story-starts where you can tell the writer is trying hard to take some advice someone game them, and instead of simply starting the story, they give some awkward mini prologue style statement on some greater issue that is often overly corny or full of empty intrigue.

    Often a 'they say...' sort of adage is used and then tried to be made specific and 'intriguing' but just makes me want to facepalm:

    And you're like, eh? Then the 'real' story starts and you already have no effing clue what the heck the writer is talking about.

    Or when writers not only do this, but also basically give us a thesis statement on the theme of the book that sounds more like a back-cover blurb than the start of a story.

    Overall I think it's part of the phenomenon where writers are more informed than ever, but that informedness is leading to weird occurrences where the writers are trying to apply all the advice they're hearing, but clearly don't understand what they're doing.

    It's like a hilarious anecdote I read in a teaching textbook about student misconceptions being one of the number one blocks to communication in teaching (in general, but writing specifically). A student, after getting in a bit of trouble with a teacher, had explained a previous teacher had said to always start an essay with something that catches the readers attention. So, the student began starting all his essays with a curse word, figuring that would surely catch the attention of most readers. Ooops, advice gone bad!

    This can also be seen with the 'start with action' advice that finds a story not about explosions or car chases, starting with an explosive car chase.

    But yeah, just start the story.
     
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  13. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hahaha, are there really people that ******???

    (that was me *-ing, it wasnt a bad word actually)
     
  14. vanarie
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    vanarie Senior Member

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    I can't believe everyone left out the best opening of all.

    It was a dark and stormy night...
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I want to write a very bare-bones, college-age novel with the first like:

    It was a stark and dormy night.
     
  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lol. :)
     
  17. vanarie
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    vanarie Senior Member

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    I soooo didn't get that the first time I read it lol
     
  18. Beginner's Mind
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    Beginner's Mind New Member

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    I say just do what feels right. Look at the page for a while. Be patient. Then make your first sentence.
     
  19. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    Stories should have an opening; something that leads the reader into the story. Some openings are relax and laid-back, others are abrupt, and others are action-packed. Whatever the opening is, it should match the tone of the rest of the story. If it doesn't, most people will stop reading when the tone changes. This is called Bait and Switch and most people don't like it.
     
  20. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    intersting point, there. If you catch the reader with a "strong" hook right in the beginning you need to keep it exciting and intense throughout. In fact you probably can judge right from how it starts how the rest is going to be, thats why they say first phrase and paragraph is so important, because most people before buying the book they open it in the bookstore and read the first page or first paragraphs, and if you dont catch an interest right then they probably will put the book back on the shelf. Something i have sen a lot when reading amateurs (like me for that matter) on forums like this is that they start with a sentence that awakes an interest then go straight to the backstory so the whole story stops, and that definately makes me stop reading right away.

    If we turn the question around; what kinds of beginnings would make you stop reading before even buying it and put it back?
     
  21. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me if I don't have a good introduction to the character - I like basic physical description, what they are wearing and name by end of first chapter. If I am starting to enjoy the story and it has gripped me I may skip ahead to find out the name ect if I can't find it or the story hasn't got me I will put the book down.
     
  22. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    For me, stories that have an introduction rather than an opening. This is so and so. He works here. He's wear this. Here is his family...boring.

    Also, book that don't name the MC on the first page. If the author doesn't think to give you a name quickly, the rest of the story will drag out. Example: The Wheel of Time.
     
  23. Torkyn
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    Usually I'll give a book a few pages to grab my attention as I don't think there is any one sentence in the world that could grab my attention that much. One example though of a book I had a real hard time starting was 'Name of the Wind' The first page of that really bored me, and I kept putting it down, but the rest of the book was amazing.

    Name of the wind started with a very long, boring description of the setting, and I assume it was to set a mood and clear your mind, but it just put me to sleep, so don't start like that.

    I like it when books start the first few pages with something intriguing that makes you want to learn more. whether its dialogue, description, it doesn't matter.
     

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