1. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    What's the best way to start a novel

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Bimber, Jan 20, 2013.

    Hi folks!
    Newcomer here,been watching this place for a few days and got to say I'm really starting to love it,bear with me here as English is my third language and still have lots to work on my grammar before i start writing novels,but ever since i was a child i felt it was my calling so hope someday i will make it,that said...

    For sometime i was pondering an idea as what's the best way to start a novel and feel this is the right place to discuss it, i generally divide them into three categories:

    1.Slow boring start as it takes time to get us really interested in the story.
    2.A start that does not really make much sense on the first read as it throws us into middle of the story but on the second read reveals its true art.
    3.A start that from the first few sentences you feel pulled into the story and want to know more.

    The reason i ask is because were ever i read other peoples reviews i always notice they mention how the novel started and most base there opinion if they will read it or not on how it started out,so made me think what's the best way.

    An example on each of the categories:

    1.The Silmarillion is the perfect example as its a piece of art many will say but a lot of people find the beginning so boring and hard that many didn't finish it.

    2.Think the wheel of time by Robert Jordan makes a good example at first read it don't make much sense as you don't know who this Lewis the dragon is and why he killed everyone and all just feels confusing,but later when you finish the series and go back to read the first book you see it through different eyes and enjoy that beginning in a different way.

    3.For me it was the song of ice and fire by GRRM,the moment you start reading it you feel pulled to it and so interested,tho later for me it just went down the hill from there but that's not the point here.

    So how do you view the beginning of a story and how important is the beginning for you?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The best way to start a novel is to write down one sentence after another. Don't agonize over the beginning, because the odds are very high that those words will not be the beginning of the manuscript you submit.

    Beginnings are critical. The beginning is the first impression you present to the submissions editor, and to the reader who decides whether to buy the book. For that reason, you will undoubtedly revisit it several times before you finally submit the manuscript. You may throw away the original beginning, or reshuffle it so it is no longer the beginning.

    Frequently, writers become paralyzed with apprehension over how to start the ball rolling. Fahgeddaboudit! It's more important in that early stage to establish a flow of words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, etc.

    Tune it in subsequent drafts.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    given the choices you list, do you really need to ask the question!?

    anything short of #3 would make no sense, would it?... that said, too many beginning writers do seem to opt for the other two, but it's a thankfully rare exception among the 'best' of wordsmiths...
     
  4. BallerGamer
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    BallerGamer Active Member

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    Number two can be number three. I've read lots of novels that threw me straight into the action and I just wanted to know more.
     
  5. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    well i might have worded it poorly but they'r not the choices but more of how i divide it into categories,others are free of course to explain and list how they see them,i'm sure others have many different ways to see each beginning.

    Of course everyone would love to write that kind of beginning and get that feeling of a great story to the readers right away,but IMO not all stories can be started that way,as not all stories are the same plus not every reader is the same,so that why i ask and see if i can learn something new from this.

    I personally think it takes greater talent to make #2 as I view that kind of novel offers something new when you read it again and more interesting,taking from the example of #3 the GRRM series has a killer start for me,but when i re-read it again after few months it no longer has that thrilling effect,so i value #2 more but that's just me.

    Many will say Tolkien was a master storyteller but when you check his reviews around you'll see a lot of different opinions on his style to begin a story,some say it was boring as it lacks "action" some say it was great. So his lords of the ring can be considered by the reviews as #1,#2 or #3!

    Hence the question from the first post "So how do you view the beginning of a story and how important is the beginning for you?"
     
  6. Jack Dawkins
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    Jack Dawkins Member

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    Just don't use once upon a time.
     
  7. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    I love to do two things in the beginning:

    Start with action.
    Show how your character deals with the action, as this shows some background without info-dumping.

    I always try to do something interesting in the beginning. A dead body is found, a shootout is taking place, a car accident, etc...

    Also, what I like to do is go to amazon.com and read the beginning of as many novels as I like. (They usually let you preview the first dozen pages or so.) It helps you get a sense of beginnings.

    ~ J. J.
     
  8. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    The first line is critical. It has to hook the reader and drag them in to read more. Introduce a scenario, introduce character, and raise a question (even if subtle) that the reader wants answered.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My preference: I like a novel to start with "action".

    The action doesn't have to be central to the plot and it doesn't have to be exploding-helicopters big. It just has to be interesting, and important to the characters. For example, a spy novel might start with the main character discovering that his barber, the only man who knows how to cut his hair properly, is retiring. A murder mystery might start with a character terrified that the souffle for her dinner party might fall. A romance might start with the main character discovering that her prize peony plants have been dug up and stolen.

    But we should be right in the middle of the action. For that last example, we don't watch that romance novel character get up, brush her teeth, eat her oatmeal, take a phone call, decide to stroll out in the garden.... we see her, in the first paragraph, preferably the first line, looking at those empty holes with frustrated fury. We're brought to care about what she cares about, inserted firmly into her mind with her emotions. And then we're strapped into that seat as she walks into the main plot of the novel.
     
  10. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I have written a grand total of two novels and both of them featured a young soldier saying goodbye to his wife. I suggest you start out with the leading characters eithering saying goodbye to each other or their creating each other.
     
  11. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    "Call me Honey Boo Boo."
     
  12. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    There is no best way to start a story.

    You could start a story with that sentence. How? Well, by breaking the fourth wall and establishing a reflective/introverted perspective you could create a story that starts at the end and recounts events leading up to the present circumstance.

    My answer would be that it depends on the tone you are trying to establish: Everything about the first sentence, paragraph and chapter (if you use them) should give the reader a good idea of what they're in for. There are a million different ways, but think not how you want to tell people but how you want them to read it. Some stories start in medias res (Saving Private Ryan), some start with a seemingly random observance, the significance of which becomes clear as the story continues (Terry Pratchett's Thud!) and some - most, maybe - start at the beginning and end at the end (Deltora Quest, Rowan of Rin, mostly kids stuff, I guess).

    I'm a big fan of how George R.R. Martin establishes the perpetual bleakness of his world and narrative in the opening chapters of his Song of Ice and Fire series. Likewise, Pratchett reveals the self-awareness of his world by including subverted cliches. Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club) has very little in the way of wasted prose: Everything is very crisp and to the point. Clockwork Orange and Starship Troopers (the books) use a lot of subtle jargon straight out of the gate and it's in the reader's hands to familiarise themselves with alien concepts.

    There's no one way you can start a story that will appeal to everyone because there's no one narrative structure or writing style that will appeal to everyone. Some appeal to more, some appeal to less (some outright offend, "Call me Honey Boo Boo," indeed) and you should always consider your target audience before setting those opening lines in stone.
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Some of my favorite openings:

    "I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific." - Michener
    "Mother died today. Or was it yesterday?" - Camus
    "It was a pleasure to burn." - Bradbury
    "The plane plip-plopped down the runway before coming to a halt in front of the sign that said 'Welcome to Cypress'." - Uris
    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." - Dickens
     
  14. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    what's the saying, the best novel starts in the middle?

    start where the action picks up. maybe with some dialogue. maybe with an interesting curse word. introduce conflict/mystery/suspense early.
     

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