Fiction writing is great, many of us are here to create fantastical worlds with colorful characters in hopes others will get lost in them just as we do when we read our favorite books.
However, sometimes, it's hard to start or know what to say or not say or when to say. We create imaginative worlds with complex magic systems, Victorian-esque customs, philosophical government ideals, or any number of things that require explanation.
In this month alone, I read countless new threads of new and experienced writers wondering "Where do I start my story?" or "Is my beginning good?" and even "How do I let readers know how my magic/government system works?". If you've ever asked yourself any of these questions and still struggle with it, I have two pieces of advice.
I - Start as close to the inciting (What sets off the intrigue or action) incident. 8 times out of 10, this is the best place to begin a story as a reader will not need a lengthy explanation of their day, how they got there, or anything of the sort. Get the ball rolling, so to speak.
II - Exposition is plain and simply not the optimum way to start your story. Your reader just picked up their book, most likely for entertainment purposes, and suddenly they're learning about the geography, monarchic history of the kingdom, and a bunch of wars that already ended. That's not what a reader is looking for at the very first sentence.
This all ties in to the question YOU ask yourself when you pick up a book:
"What is this about?"
Sounds familiar right? How many times have you picked up a book and asked yourself that as you open up to the first page and see if this book interests you? Probably every time.
There is a simple rule of thumb that's used in multiple disciplines, including in writing:
Who is in this scene?
What is happening?
Where is this happening
Why is this happening?
When is this happening?
Also known as the 5 Ws, this is key information that a reader needs to formulate the imagery necessary to get hooked into your story. No, you do not need to reveal everything in paragraph one but if in two pages most of these questions are not answered, your reader might not be able to sink himself into the book.
Keeping this in mind; as a reader and not a writer, if you open a book and are bombarded with exposition information that means zip to you, will it answer "What is this about?" or will it just leave just as many if not more questions?
So this is what it comes down to: if you ever wonder how to start, where to start, or what to reveal, think of the five W's and whether the questions "What is this about" is answered.