1. sereda008
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    sereda008 Senior Member

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    How would you start your novel?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by sereda008, Oct 15, 2010.

    Its not as though I haven't started mine, I just wanted to see how other people start theirs. My first novel, still unfinished with 19000 words, is about those demons/robots destroying the world and it starts with a historical description of the events of the past 300 years describing all the details that the reader should know. My current novel with a word count of 8590 words started with a biography of the main character (an unsuccessful attempt on, I will need to revise it later) because it takes place in 1964 and therefore does not need any historical information delivered.
    Many novels I have read, especially fantasy, have the same start as the middle. By that I mean that absolutely no description is given on the first page, and sometimes none throughout the chapter. This I found annoying because I was literally imagining the faceless character standing in absolute darkness, illuminated by some unseen light. Some novels I have disposed of because of this.
    so, how do you start your novel? Do you start with a description or jump directly into the action? Curiosity has prevailed against my will and it becomes more difficult to restrain myself from posting this by every passing day.
    I hope that it is not a problem to post half as much threads as comments.
    Thanks.
     
  2. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't ever start with a massive info dump, whether it be biography or history. If I'm going to start with concepts rather than actions I have a line of basic scene setting - just a comment on the streetlights to let people know it's earth, modern day, or maybe frame the thoughts in the context of nodding off at a desk job. Well, thinking about it, most of my novels start, in the opening paragraph, with one-three sentences of setting, but end up in some sort of musing state for a longer paragraph after.

    Then they go on into the bulk of the opening scene, which is always action. But in a Melzaar way, which means a crapload of description along the way. I like things richly textured. :p I can't really allow myself to describe backstory - it just becomes a whole scene with characters moving around doing stuff. Most of my novels start with a concept or scene that needs a lot of explanation, and that's only told in later.

    Like, Teo's story begins with him at work, as I said, nodding off, getting yelled at by his boss, and being sent on an errand mission. Then he steps out the door and you discover he's been in a High Fantasy setting all along.

    Instant Noodles starts with Markus complaining that his house is like a house of horrors, then he has a confrontation with his housemate who's my second most main character. As the novel going along, with lots and lots of flashbacks to weeks, months and even, once, a year before that confrontation, you find out WHY they got so angry with each other.

    I hear a lot of advice which is never to start at the start, but several scenes or even half the novel later. These days I just pre-empt that and start my stories in the middle as a default. :p

    Note before anyone says that if I need to tell so much as flashbacks, why not start there anyway: Well, I only do that for Instant Noodles, which is influenced by a lot of reading I did at university. I went for a pretentious out-of-order timeline and lots of stuff like that to tell a pretty simple teen romance story, because I like confusing literary critics. :p
     
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  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first YA novel starts with seventeen year old Prince Angus woken from his sleep by his angry father - Angus has not attended school, he was brawlling in the street and had decided not to attend school. His father lets him know what he thinks of him. - this novel is now mostly complete I may reedit a bit at Christmas.

    My second novel is about 25,000 words into its first draft - it starts with Nate (my head of secret service and partner to Angus's brother) lighting a fire it is cold. He is being eyed up by Socrates his partner. Angus shows up and tells them his wife and Queen has been kidnapped.

    My third novel is in the plotting stage: I think will begin with a conversation between Nate and his foster father Mac about an incident in Mac's home country. Mac is an exile and they formulate a plan to go there.

    My fourth will probably be Socrates reading his nephew Crown Prince Lorenzo the riot act for his behaviour during which he discovers how the teens of a country are being destroyed by misuse of eternal powers.

    My fifth novel I have the story planned for NaNo it is a time travel story: Will begin with Socrates who is now 130 having a cup of ginger tea and he is making a quilt (that is if I can convince he needs to learn to sew lol) Where he is interupted by Angus's great grandson who is now King, he can't cope with the Crown Princess and requests Socrates help.

    By the end of the first chapter I have described the main character and a bit about where he lives. You also know his inner voice as it is first person right inside the head. And you will know what they are wearing. I like to know about characters I am going to invest some time reading about so I have done that in my novels. The world background I work into the story.
     
  4. IVIilitarus
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    IVIilitarus Member

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    Generally, a bit of action in a prologue which introduces the factions, a location and maybe some of the more prominent tech.

    The characters in the prologue can't be expected to survive.
     
  5. Naiyn
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    Naiyn Contributing Member

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    Starting your story with a lot of biographical data and history (no matter how fantastic) is a good way to make sure you're story gets put right back on the shelf. You're much better off filling in the details of the setting, characters and history through the action, but only if the details are essential to the story.

    My novel begins with dialogue, then goes a couple of quick sentences to establish the setting mixed in with the thoughts of the MC to go along with the dialogue.

    After the initial conversation, the MC-- now bordering on a state of panic-- has to go home. Her senses are quite accute now as she notices everything that goes bump in the night, and you see the small village through her paranoid eyes.
     
  6. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hm... sometimes I try to open my stories in a defining moment. A moment that defines the character or the premise, I mean.

    I agree that infodumps are evil and should be slain by the Sword of Subtle Exposition, before they are cast down into the Pit of Mediocrity.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    each novel [or short story] should start in the best way for that particular one... you shouldn't have a set way to start all of your novels/stories...

    in my old fiction-writing years i can't say i started any two the same way...
     
  8. sereda008
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    sereda008 Senior Member

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    Good points, but in my first novel I would like the reader to know where he is, when he is, what he is and how everything around him is. It would be of no use to reveal that only 10000 of humanity is still alive half way through the story. My first novel I think would be worse of i did not explain the main history of events. The main character's second or third life (People have found a way to bring people back from the dead, the reason why the small demon/robot race appeared), well mostly at the beginning of the ultimate war, is explain at the end of each chapter in bod text, like a different story, a lot smaller than the main one. This novel is mostly hard fact, eg. "2045 to 2052: Deamoning was succesfull and popular." (deamoning meaning the process of bringing back the dead).
    My second novel, well I just wanted the reader to know what the character was like mostly and some of his story. I still intend to reveal plenty in the upcoming text but there must be a support structure to hold the building in my opinion. This biography would also show how he would feel when this entity found residence in his brain.

    Thank you for your comments, but I do not really think that your ways would suit me.

    Note: My reply might be considered strange because it is 2AM in the night, and I also do not have much time.
     
  9. S-wo
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    S-wo Active Member

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    Are we talking about the first paragraph here or the first page? If it's the first paragraph I'm describing the setting.
     
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just think it's more fun to read a descriptive scene with a character interacting with the world as a way to show and hint and suggest that all that backstory has happened. A story opening with a solid chunk of information is not captivating. It doesn't give characters to care for, just facts. People only read textbooks about a fictional world if it is insanely popular - on my shelves are things like textbooks about the mythology of Discworld and Harry Potter. If JK Rowling had published first a book of spells or mythology - like, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, before Harry Potter, it'd have garnered niche interest at best, and most people would just have thought, "Where's the story that goes with this then?"

    Now, Terry Pratchett does start a fair few Discworld novels with a description of Great A'Tuin as a kind of basic world-setting, but, for example, I was re-reading Pyramids last night, and all he really does it set the scene - in a descriptive way, so the space turtle is doing stuff and the scene is more about the camera zooming than a backstory, and in truth the turtle has nothing to do with what happens on its back, and once we get into the story about Djelibeybi and pyramids and assassins, none of that would have been gleaned from talking about the cosmos and turtles. Plus, it's never more than the first half-page of the novel. Once we get into the main story, the actual history is revealed slowly through suggestion. Somehow, it's not impossible to cope with the idea of the story continuing without knowing the backstory until a few pages later...

    Anyway, the point is, if you feel your novel is incomprehensible without the backstory presented in a massive info dump at the front, then you're doing it wrong. I guarentee you half the info there you could save 'til later, and the other half one short, descriptive scene with a character moving through the world, in a moment of peace or not, could tell you the rest. The world is full of clues about who we are and where we came from. Learn to read them in this world, and you'll understand how to show them in one of your own. You don't need to wait until the 25,000 word mark to reveal that everyone's dead. But you can handle it in a way so it's not just a fact swamped in a wall of facts that no one is going to make it to the end of with a clear head and attention snapped to your story.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Find an event that allows you to do that - by the end of my first two or three chapters my readers know all that but the action is well underway.
     
  12. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    It isn't that starting with description is always bad, but writers, specially genre fiction writers, tend to get carried away and forget that description is also a tool available to the writers to move the story forward and built character depth. In trying to give us minute details of the world they have created, they forget that they are suppose to be telling a story of the chars in that world. This problem is usually solved when you accompany descriptions with actions, whereby you are forced to give descriptions relevant to the chars, and the story at large. I completely agree that fiction, like fantasy, without descriptions can be annoying, but how that description is given can make or break a story.

    As for back-stories, it shouldn't be given as a whole chapter or two; it should be given in bits and pieces wherever needed, and if it has to be long it is preferable to make it a scene, as Melzaar suggested (I think).

    Prologue is an entirely different matter.
     
  13. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    I would start my novel in the midst of things. Not in the midst of description or exposition, but in the middle of say a conversation. Or anything that will get the ball moving. Novels that start out with description loose my interest quickly. I know I should be more patient, but I can't help scanning through the page until dialogue tags or something else pops up on the page. I want to cut to the chase.
     
  14. sereda008
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    sereda008 Senior Member

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    well my descriptions do not start as Chapter 1 but as Prologue. Chapter 1 comes after that with all the actions and characters.
     
  15. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you this, maia. Sometimes we need to think less of trying to find the 'right way' and more just about how to make what we want to say as gripping as possible. I mean, no one put a book back on the shelf because it was too interesting from the word go.
     
  16. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    In that case, I think there are many past threads on prologue you should check out. Prologue can be useful in many ways, but is a prologue be use to simply provide back-stories when you can easily incorporate the back-stories wherever needed? Something to think about even as I agree with Maia that you should do whatever works for your story.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. As has been pointed out, there are many good ways to begin a novel. There are also many beginnings to avoid.

    One of the things to avoid is the background prologue. Resist the urge to explain or describe stuff before the story begins.

    Maybe the thread should be "What should you NOT do when starting your novel."
     
  18. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Hee, hee. I concurr. For me, short prologues may be acceptable, but that's it. I like authors to cut to the good stuff and get me in the story as soon as possible.
     
  19. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    I like my reader to know when and where my character is, too. When I'm beginning a novel, I make sure that on the first page the reader is oriented. If he's lost in time and space, I lose him.

    I also leave lots of mysteries that the reader should want to read on in order to learn. Who forced him to be an architect? Why aren't there any fax machines in his town? What's the deal with his perverted sister? Because if I decide you must, MUST know all these things before you get to know my character, you aren't going to be engaged or compelled to read on. What if, before I show you what shenanigans he's into, I tell you all about his birth and what school he went to and the names of his childhood friends? Bored yet?

    Information in fiction stories should be doled out on a need-to-know basis. Sometimes you think we need to know everything, but really, we don't. We don't care yet. Make us care first; then we'll listen.

    Some advise writers to start in media res -- throw us into the middle of an action scene at the start. You don't have to do this, but you could try it. I've heard that the first several paragraphs or pages we write are generally "warming up" paragraphs or pages and can be trashed. This is often true. More writers should make the beginning five pages after when they thought it should be.

    I've also read that it's a bad idea to start off with a quotation. Then I read many books that do this and seem to be successful. But I agree, it's not my preference. I like to be oriented first.

    I usually start with something foreboding and captivating. "Margie only wanted to go to the pet store to look at turtles the day she found out her brother was making car bombs in the basement." Something crazy. And then, I'll tell you something about the turtles, like that there was a red-eared slider who'd swim up and flap his little arms at her. You want to hear about the car bomb discovery, but I'm going to hold out for a minute with that. Many authors use this technique.

    But I like a little description, too. People like to hear about the weather -- how the sky looks, what the air is doing, whether it's hot enough to dress slutty, etc. It's best to use at least four of the five senses, too.

    Sometimes I go to the bookstore, pick up random books and only read the first page. I like to see what grabs me and what doesn't, and why. You can usually tell in the first page or two whether the book is a best-seller and what the authors who aren't best-sellers may have done wrong or simply lacked.
     
  20. thalorin19
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    thalorin19 Member

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    Basically what you said, Joanna.

    With one novel that I am working on, well the only one I am working on, I start it off with the way you explained.

    Best way to put it is the expression 'The peace before the storm' or however you like to put it. You find out about the character's personality and his surroundings in the first few paragraphs, before he is unexpectedly thrown into danger.

    I think the most important thing obviously is to grab the readers attention. When I go to the bookstore to get a new book, I will pick one up that looks interesting and read the first few paragraphs. If it gets my attention, I'll get it. If not, it gets shelved.

    So whether it's putting the character into some kind of danger, an action scene, a dramatic/emotional scene - just get the readers attention.

    Oh, and don't throw in a bunch of history and descriptions and details into the first chapter. These are things the reader won't care about right now cause they don't know what they are, and wont have any interest in them. Put them in later when the reader has more knowledge and will have more interest in these things.
     
  21. izanobu
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    izanobu Senior Member

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    Novel 1 starts with a prologue with the birth (and abandonment) of a child (a main char later in the story).
    Novel 2 starts with two main chars stealing food.
    Novel 3 starts with main char walking out on a job.

    I agree with others... don't start with giant lumps of description or back story (make sure you have some setting in there, but don't have ONLY setting/description). Generally a story should start when something important happens or something changes for the main characters.
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Dickens famously began "A Tale of Two Cities" with a one-paragraph synopsis of the time in which it was set - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

    Camus set the tone for "The Stranger" with the oddly jarring, "Mother died today. Or was it yesterday? I'm not sure."

    Michener began "Tales of the South Pacific" with the wonderfully misleading, "I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific", implying that he can't, but then he does. And he uses that small introductory chapter to give you tiny glimpses of people's stories, some of which he will tell and some of which he won't.

    Allan Drury began "Advise and Consent" by describing the majority leader of the US Senate awaking one morning, seeing a headline of a newspaper regarding the President's nominee for Secretary of State, and uttering an epithet.

    And in a novel I'm re-reading now, "Welcome to Havana, Senor Hemingway", Alfredo Jose Estrada begins by mentioning a family legend that his grandfather once punched out the famous author. He then uses this as a springboard to tell a story that is at once about his grandfather, Hemingway's experiences in Cuba and the political upheavals in Cuba against the Machado government in the 1930s.

    Every one of those openings is different, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. And I read each of the first four for the first time more than 40 years ago. As for my writing, I usually like to start in the middle of things because that seems to be the easiest way to catch the reader's interest.

    See what works best for your particular story. What will make someone want to know more?
     
  23. Des_Maca
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    Des_Maca Member

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    I'll try to help as much as I can. With my noel, I have to cram a good amount of information into the reader as fast as possible. I'm not going to just have 20 pages of information with no narrative/character interaction. I will give out the information through the use of characters. New characters into the business in my novel will ask questions. If I can use them correctly, then it would be a good excuse to convey information vital to the story I'm trying to tell.

    I hope this helps.
     
  24. sereda008
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    sereda008 Senior Member

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    This is a lot more complicated than I have hoped, with all the techniques to catch the readers attention. Thanks for your help, I might as well bring in this description on the second chapter!

    Only one question remains: Would a prologue of information remain bad if it was only 1234 words long?
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. You're delaying entry into the story by over a thousand words.
     

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