Sometimes one of the most frustrating parts of writing is simply starting your story. Periodically I do alpha and beta reading for fellow authors on this site, and one of the number one concerns I've run across seems to be how or where to start the story. A good bit of this depends on the type of story you're planning to write. Is it a novel opening, a short story? If it's a novel, what kind? The same goes for short stories.
Unfortunately, there is no specific how to write a good opening or magic wand we can wave over our work to say, YES! This is perfect. But there are a few things we can do to make our openings and the rest of our work as good as we possibly can.
1. Know what you want to write. This means knowing the type of story, the genre, and doing your homework. (Uh! I know... homework!?!!) Most successful authors though do their homework. They know what works, or doesn't for their audience and genre.
2. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on, but specifically, in the genre or story style you want to write in. Why? because if you want to write in those places you need to (yes I'm saying it) do your homework and know what types of things are acceptable for the genre or style you want to write in. Does that mean you have to follow all the rules and tropes of the genre, NO. But it will give you a great baseline for how to proceed with your own work. Study how a few different authors write their openings, and descriptions can help strengthen your own work.
3. Hook your reader! It doesn't matter if you're writing a short story or a novel, the most important thing you can hope to do as a writer is hooking your reader into your piece early. If you can hook your reader, you can take them on all sorts of fantastical journeys, and not only will they stick with you until the end (hopefully you've added lots of conflicts to make sure that happens, but hey that's another post) but they will also love you for it, and seek out more of your work.
I know you're probably thinking, ok all of those things sound great, but how do I do them, and what do some of them have to do with my opening? Simple, good openings have those three things in common. The Author took the time to cultivate knowledge for their audience while expanding on the scene, characters, and the world in their openings. Not only do good authors do that, but they hook you into their stories and make you want to know more about this world that you're about to peek into.
Let's play a little dissection game, shall we? (By the way, I'm no expert at this and I'm going to mess quite a few things up, but bear with me here.) Below I have the openings for two stories that I've read recently. I'll briefly go over each before diving into them and detailing why I believe they make for good openings.
I just finished reading a novel by Kim Harrison called A Perfect Blood. So I'll use it as a novel example. It reads as follows:
The woman across from me barely sniffed when I slammed the pen down on the counter. She didn't care that I was furious, that I'd been standing in this stupid line for over an hour, that I couldn't get my license renewed or my car registered in my name. I was tired of doing everything through Jenks or Ivy, but DEMON wasn't a species option on the form. Friday morning at the DMV office. God! What had I been thinking?
*First and foremost this paragraph tells us a lot of information about the world, even if you've never read the writers other work you can tell that this is an Urban Fantasy novel right off the bat from the use of Demon, and DMV. But it also gives a lot of information about the character as well. How she feels, what she thinks, and that she's got issues both in a mundane task like going to the DMV and with the fact that she's a demon. That's a lot of information in a few lines.
I have a friend who writes in the next town over (Ryan McSwain), and he writes short stories. The last one he sent out in his monthly newsletter I found hilarious. It was called: Stop This Rocket, I want to Get Off! His started like this:
The intercom clicked to life. "Two minutes until launch."
Evelyn tightened her seatbelt. "I can't believe these new Gernsbeck rockets don't use gravity restraints. I hate chasing things around in zero-G."
Her handsome companion returned his tray table to the full upright position. It made a difference, considering the cramped nature of their accommodations, but her elbow still poked into his forearm. "True, but at least the time compressor has four-star reviews. I don't mind a tight squeeze if I get back to Earth before everyone I know is dead."
*So this little snippet tells us that this is a sci-fi story (even if we haven't seen the title) and that Evelyn is a nervous flyer, and that there could be issues with this flight just from the shoddy parts alone used. It's not as much information as we get from the previous piece, but most of that is due to the fact that this story is a short story, and most of it's told through the conversation of Evelyn and her mysterious fellow passenger.
Both of these examples succeed because not only do they set the scenes (a busy suburban DMV, and a questionable rocket ship) but they also give us glimpses into the characters, and more importantly their problems which makes them both relatable, and as a reader we're more likely to sympathize with a relatable character that has problems like flying, or getting their license back, than one we can't understand.
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