The Dos and Don’ts of Beginning a Novel: An Illustrated Guide
I’ve had a lot of asks lately for how to begin a book (or how not to), so here’s a post on my general rules of thumb for story openers and first chapters!
Please note, these are incredibly broad generalizations; if you think an opener is right for you, and your beta readers like it, there’s a good chance it’s A-OK. When it comes to writing, one size does not fit all. (Also note that this is for serious writers who are interested in improving their craft and/or professional publication, so kindly refrain from the obligatory handful of comments saying “umm, screw this, write however you want!!”)
So without further ado, let’s jump into it!
1. Open with a dream.
“Just when Mary Sue was sure she’d disappear down the gullet of the monstrous, winged pig, she woke up bathed in sweat in her own bedroom.”
What? So that entire winged pig confrontation took place in a dream and amounts to nothing? I feel so cheated!
Okay, not too many people open their novels with monstrous swine, but you get the idea: false openings of any kind tend to make the reader feel as though you’ve wasted their time, and don’t usually jump into more meaty action of the story quickly enough. It makes your opening feel lethargic and can leave your audience yawning.
2. Open with a character waking up.
This feels familiar to most of us, but unless your character is waking up to a zombie attack or an alien invasion, it’s generally a pretty easy recipe to get your story to drag.
No one picks a book to hear how your character brushes their teeth in the morning or what they’d like to have for dinner. As a general rule of thumb, we read to explore things we wouldn’t otherwise get to experience. And cussing out the alarm clock is not one of them.
Granted, there are exceptions if your writing is exceptionally engaging, but in most cases it just sets a slow pace that will bore you and your reader to death and probably cause you to lose interest in your book within the first ten pages.
3. Bombard with exposition.
Literary characters aren’t DeviantArt OCs. And the best way to convey a character is not, in my experience, to devote the first ten pages to describing their physical appearance, personality, and backstory. Develop your characters, and make sure their fully fleshed out – my tips on how to do so here – but you don’t need to dump all that on the reader before they have any reason to care about them. Let the reader get to know the character gradually, learn about them, and fall in love with them as they would a person: a little bit at a time.
This is iffy when world building is involved, but even then it works best when the delivery feels organic and in tune with the book’s overall tone. Think the opening of the Hobbit or Good Omens.
4. Take yourself too seriously.
Your opener (and your novel in general) doesn’t need to be intellectually pretentious, nor is intellectual pretense the hallmark of good literature. Good literature is, generally speaking, engaging, well-written, and enjoyable. That’s it.
So don’t concern yourself with creating a poetic masterpiece of an opening line/first chapter. Just make one that’s – you guessed it – engaging, well-written, and enjoyable.
5. Be unintentionally hilarious.
Utilizing humor in your opening line is awesome, but check yourself to make sure your readers aren’t laughing for all the wrong reasons (this is another reason why betas are important.)
These examples of the worst opening lines in published literature will show you what I mean – and possibly serve as a pleasant confidence booster as well:
“As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand – who would take her away from all this – and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had.”
– Ali Kawashima
“She sipped her latte gracefully, unaware of the milk foam droplets building on her mustache, which was not the peachy-fine baby fuzz that Nordic girls might have, but a really dense, dark, hirsute lip-lining row of fur common to southern Mediterranean ladies nearing menopause, and winked at the obviously charmed Spaniard at the next table.”
– Jeanne Villa
“As I gardened, gazing towards the autumnal sky, I longed to run my finger through the trail of mucus left by a single speckled slug – innocuously thrusting past my rhododendrons – and in feeling that warm slime, be swept back to planet Alderon, back into the tentacles of the alien who loved me.”
– Mary E. Patrick
“Before they met, his heart was a frozen block of ice, scarred by the skate blades of broken relationships, then she came along and like a beautiful Zamboni flooded his heart with warmth, scraped away the ugly slushy bits, and dumped them in the empty parking lot of his soul.”
– Howie McClennon
If these can get published, so can you.
1. You know that one really interesting scene you’re itching to write? Start with that.
Momentum is an important thing in storytelling. If you set a fast, infectious beat, you and your reader will be itching to dance along with it.
Similarly, slow, drowsy openers tend to lead to slow, drowsy stories that will put you both to sleep.
I see a lot of posts joking about “that awkward moment when you sit down to write but don’t know how to get to that one scene you actually wanted to write about.” Write that scene! If it’s at all possible, start off with it. If not, there are still ways you can build your story around the scenes you actually want to write.
Keep in mind: if you’re bored, your reader will almost certainly be bored as well. So write what you want to write. Write what makes you excited. Don’t hold off until later, when it “really gets good.” Odds are, the reader will not wait around that long, and you’re way more likely to become disillusioned with your story and quit. If a scene is dragging, cut it out. Burn bridges, find a way around. Live, dammit.
2. Engage the reader.
There are several ways to go about this. You can use wit and levity, you can present a question, and you can immerse the reader into the world you’ve created. Just remember to do so with subtlety, and don’t try too hard; believe me, it shows.
Here are some of my personal favorite examples of engaging opening lines:
“In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."
– Douglas Adams, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
"It was the day my grandmother exploded.”
– Iain Banks, Crow Road.
“A white Pomeranian named Fluffy flew out of the a fifth-floor window in Panna, which was a grand-new building with the painter’s scaffolding still around it. Fluffy screamed.”
– Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games.
See what I’m saying? They pull you in and do not let go.
3. Introduce us to a main character (but do it right.)
“Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough and looked don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.”
– Neil Gaiman, American Gods.
This is one of my favorite literary openings of all time, because right off the bat we know almost everything we need to know about Shadow’s character (i.e. that he’s rugged, pragmatic, and loving.)
Also note that it doesn’t tell us everything about Shadow: it presents questions that make us want to read more. How did Shadow get into prison? When will he get out? Will he reunite with his wife? There’s also more details about Shadow slowly sprinkled in throughout the book, about his past, personality, and physical appearance. This makes him feel more real and rounded as a character, and doesn’t pull the reader out of the story.
Obviously, I’m not saying you should rip off American Gods. You don’t even need to include a hooker eating a guy with her cooch if you don’t want to.
But this, and other successful openers, will give you just enough information about the main character to get the story started; rarely any good comes from infodumping, and allowing your reader to get to know your character gradually will make them feel more real.
The toughest part of being a writer is that it’s a rare and glorious occasion when you’re actually satisfied with something you write. And to add another layer of complication, what you like best probably won’t be what your readers will like best.
If you refuse to keep moving until you have the perfect first chapter, you will never write anything beyond your first chapter.
Set a plan, and stick to it: having a daily/weekly word or page goal can be extremely helpful, especially when you’re starting out. Plotting is a lifesaver (some of my favorite posts on how to do so here, here, and here.)
Keep writing, keep moving, and rewrite later. If you stay in one place for too long, you’ll never keep going.
The fact that so many people (or just one sad, lonely person) are coming into the Pharmercy shippers inboxes just to tell us our ship “won’t happen” and to insult us and our ship shows you how insecure they are. They feel threatened, and much like a wounded animal, they lash out in retaliation.
Mainly because they find it hard to come to terms with the fact that the game director prefers Pharmercy and admits our ship is better.
And it just goes to show you how powerful Pharmercy is, and that we’re just growing in strength and enduring in resilience with each affirmation merited out by the dev team and the VAs.
Not to mention all of the streamers and professional artists who are fans of the ship too (see Irene Koh and Jen Bartel for details).
Our fandom is increasing in ranks and numbers despite the fact the amount of hate that’s been foisted against it. And people who don’t like our ship just can’t handle that. (Mainly because they hate the idea of gay people, and lgbt+ women especially, being happy, because same-gender love is gross to them. Tis such sad lives they lead.)
And hey, if you feel a little discouraged, just remember that the things they’re currently saying about us, are the same things they said about Korrasami.
They said Korrasami “would never happen” either. And yet …
So, looks like you guys like my posts about how to (lowkey) celebrate witchy holidays when you’re on your own. So here goes another one, this time for Samhain, all hollows eve, Halloween, Tempora dell'ombra, Day of the dead (fret not is the translation for the Italian term, I’m Italian and I do celebrate it, so it’s ok), or whatever you have.
- pull out old pictures, of when you were little, of when your parents were little, of when your grandparents were young
- frame pictures of loved ones who passed away
- have family tell you stories from the past, have friends tell you stories from their families and past
- write down your family tree, look for your roots
- light a candle and leave it out in the night to help lost souls find their way
- leave food offerings out in the night, or set an extra plate at your dinner table
- put up wards against all types of unwanted guests (salt on the window sills, a bag of iron nails near your door, a broom left outside)
- light some incense and cleanse your house and yourself
- sit down with an homemade pumpkin spice something and write in your witchy journal
- carve a pumpkin
- collect fallen leaves
- eat seasonal produce (pumpkin, mushrooms, chestnuts, etc…)
- divinate, if you have no tools it’s the perfect time to start (for lack of tools you can pick up any book ad do bibliomancy, look this up)
- and if you don’t know what to ask when doing divination, ask for an advice that can act as a motto for the incoming year
- pray for ancestors and gone souls
- dance with your shadow, meaning learn to recognize your flaws, learn from them, learn to work around and with them, learn to accept them (if you cannot shed it of course)
- dance with your shadow, meaning learn to see yourself at your worse, get scared of what you could do if completely unleashed in the worse possible way, be thankful for it because this way you can see your light
- put out food and water for small birds and little critters to pass the incoming cold months
a bookstore date: we can go hand in hand and run in between the shelves, pick out books with our interests, drink a coffee and pastries, smile as we kiss and a book falls down on us miraculously a love story
botanical garden date: smell the flowers, follow the butterflies, run around the trees while singing songs, laying down and watching the clouds, I give you a rose and call you my sweetheart
by the sea date: picnic on the sand, walking on the rocks pointing at the tide pools, feeling our toes touch the water, splashing around in the water, sun kisses our skin, collecting shells and shaping them in a heart for you
“Either you commit to diversity, and it’s just a fact of how you do
business, how you live, or you’re not diverse,” Franck says. “You can’t
say ‘I know, we’ll be diverse, we’ll gift one black part.’ That sort of
tokenism is not diversity. To be truly diverse, you have to start at the
top. Our production company, one of the presidents is a black man. The
president of our TV division is a woman. Our writer’s room is pretty
close to fifty-fifty, men and women. It’s not like there were
checkboxes, the attitude was just, ‘Let’s hire an interesting array of
voices.’” That attitude extends to the script and the screen. “We’re not
trying to champion anyone in particular,” Abraham says. “We’re telling a
story, and in the course of the story, there are people who aren’t all
white guys. What’s important is what the Zuni woman is doing, not that
she’s a Zuni.” - How SyFy’s The Expanse cast its multiracial future.
Is this more of an app review or a book review? Today I bring you a review of Beelinguapp, an audiobooks app for language learners.
Sometimes studying can be a boring drag and you just want to do something a little less tedious than drilling grammar or a ton of vocab flashcards. Maybe you want to get into reading books in your language of choice, but you’re worried that it might be too hard to just pick up a book written in your chosen language and read it without guidance. In that case, I could recommend this app to you!
As I already said, this is an audiobook app. There are free stories and paid ones both available to choose from. There are stories of all different types and difficulties, including classics and even sciency stuff, as you can see in the above image! The cool thing is that when you choose a story, you can also choose which languages to download it in! So far, I’ve downloaded all of my stories in English, Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese. When you go to listen to a story, you can choose what you want your learning language to be and what your reference language is. When you listen to the book, it will be read and displayed to you in the learning language, and you can do split screen so the learning language is on top and the reference language is on bottom. You can mix and match languages, so you could even have two learning languages up at once!
There are a lot of things you can play with as you read. As I already mentioned, there’s the split screen option, and there is a night mode, text magnifier, voice speed control, and text highlight that follows the reader. The text highlight sometimes isn’t timed correctly, however, and of course if the languages you have set as your learning and reference have different word order or other major grammatical differences, you won’t be able to really use the highlight to, for example, match words you don’t know. Still, the highlight does make it easier to follow where the speaker is in the text with your eyes even if the timing is a little off.
As for the actual audio quality, I’ve found it to be passable in all the stories and different languages I’ve tested so far, though some aren’t the absolute best quality. That isn’t to say the audio is bad, just that you can expect to hear some noise in some recordings. I’m assuming that the audio quality will be better with stories that you have to pay to download, but I’m too cheap so I haven’t tried any of those yet :B Anyway, in all of the stories I’ve listened to so far, the narrators speak at reasonable storytelling speeds, and if you aren’t super picky about audio quality, there should be no big problem.
The major downfall of this app is, in my opinion, the lack of a dictionary function. You can long-press words to add them to your own dictionary in the app… but then you have to add a meaning for the word yourself, which is obviously not too helpful at all if you don’t already know what the word means! Sure, maybe you could take a look at the reference language text to see what the word means, but these stories aren’t translated word-for-word and sometimes matching up words between different versions of the same text could be hard. What I think this app really needs is an easy-access dictionary that, if you long-press a word, it pulls up a dictionary entry for that word. Of course, since there are so many stories in so many languages on this app, providing dictionaries for all of them might be hard…
Ultimately, I think this is a pretty good app with a few flaws that, if fixed, would make this a really excellent language-learning tool!
Multiple languages available
Can read along as you listen to the story
Can choose your display languages so you can even study more than one new language at once
Lots of little options to play with to optimize your experience
Note: I had this in my drafts for a while, then Sebastian decides to grace us with his leather jacket?? fucc me. I don’t even write about the leather jacket - it’s a slight mention, lawl. oh and since I’m sick, I don’t feel up to finishing requests. hopefully this ties you guys over! not really sure what it is, just go along with it. gif credit to owner! feedback is always welcome, I love reading your comments!! .c
Warnings: SMUT, 18+, I’M 20 AND WILL NOT BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR WHAT YOU UNDERAGE KIDS DECIDE TO READ. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
The heavy sound of boots with chains hanging from the shoelace loops caught your attention behind you. Your ears perked as you listened closely. Great. He’s here. You rolled your eyes and clenched your jaw as the sound got closer.
Bucky Barnes was a regular in the local library, just like you were. He was cocky, he rode a black motorcycle, he was way too flirty, and he got on your nerves. He didn’t waste a single second to piss you off and make you equally as flustered at the same time. You hated him. Also, you liked him. You’d never admit that there was any sexual tension between you two. The last thing that man needs is a bigger head. No, not that one. But if you could feel that tension, you knew he could.
“Pornographic books again, Doll?” His breath fanned across your cheek as he leaned down, his arms either side of you, his large hands resting on the table. You scoffed and ignored the shiver that ran down your spine when he not-so-subtly sniffed your hair.
“A friend recommended this one, Barnes. Now get away, you smell like burnt rubber.” You nudged your elbow against his chest and he chuckled, moving to sit across from you at the table.
Taking off his leather jacket and setting it on the table, he slumped back in his seat, trailing his hand through his hair as he grinned at you.
“Is that so? They wanna get you all hot and bothered with a book? I can do that with my words.” He challenged, his blue eyes boring right into yours. You inhaled deeply - not missing the way his eyes fell to your cleavage in your low-cut top as it rose with your air intake - and ignored him.
Your eyes fell back onto your book that rest on the table. It was silent for a few moments and you actually got lost in the fantasy, subconsciously biting your bottom lip. Your thighs squeezed together and you let your tongue slowly lick your bottom lip before turning the page.
This caught Bucky’s attention. He watched as your eyes skimmed across the pages, the way you slightly squirmed in your seat. Bucky leaned forward and rest his elbows on the table as he smirked at you.
“You’re wet.” Bucky stated lowly, his eyes focused on your lips. Your head shot up and your mouth was agape. Bucky bit his lip this time, seeing as you made the perfect ‘o’ shape. His mind raced with thoughts of what your mouth would feel like against his, and full of his-
“What are you even doing here? Go bother someone else!” You slammed your book closed and sighed heavily, bringing him out of his thoughts. A loud shush came from the little old lady that came around a bookshelf. You gave her an apologetic smile before she rolled her eyes and left the space.
Bucky chuckled and leaned back in his chair again, linking his fingers behind his head. His biceps looked as if they were ready to rip through the material of his shirt. And fuck, if that didn’t do things to you. “Come on, you know I love teasing you, Doll.” He licked his lips and you cursed yourself for feeling your panties get even more wet at the sight of his tongue.
You felt blood rush to your face and you creased your eyebrows. Okay, it’s time he gets a taste of his own medicine. You crossed your arms to purposefully push your breasts together. Bucky’s biceps flexed as his eyes took in the sight of your cleavage once again. That got a reaction you were hoping for.
“Instead of teasing me all the time, why don’t you do something about it?” You countered innocently, tilting your head slightly. You lifted your foot underneath the table and trailed it up along the inside of Bucky’s leg. He let out a harsh breath, letting his eyes travel up to your face. His throat bobbed as he swallowed thickly.
You bit your lip again and raised your eyebrows, looking at him with such innocence, he felt his jeans tighten completely. He sat there completely still and utterly shocked. You let your foot drop back down. Got him.
Seeing as he wasn’t going to respond anymore, you picked your book up again, only now you held it up in front of your face and continued to read. If you weren’t in the library right now, you would laugh so hard you’d be crying. The reaction on Bucky’s face was award winning.
After finishing another paragraph, it was finally quiet again. So quiet, that you couldn’t hear Bucky’s heavy breathing anymore. You were able to finish a whole page without any interruptions from him. You were lucky to get through that much before.
You slowly brought your book down from your face and looked at the empty seat in front of you. Bucky wasn’t there, but his leather jacket was still on the table where he left it.
You turned your head, looking all around you and didn’t spot Bucky anywhere, or rather anyone. Your eyebrows creased with confusion as you looked at his empty seat again. He was just hereand you didn’t even hear him leave or see him get up. Where did he even go?
Suddenly, you felt something stubbly - much like a face - sliding in between your legs, slowly moving closer to your soaking panties. A gasp fell from your lips as you felt two hands rest on the outsides of your thighs, gently pulling them apart.
Your chest rose and fell quickly as his fingers dug into your flesh. You knew it was Bucky just by the feel of him smirking and his long hair tickling your skin. His warm breath fanned out across your clothed pussy, and you immediately regretted wearing a skirt today. Actually, you regretted waking up and coming to the library today.
Bucky’s tongue licked a stripe up your panties and you felt his warm breath huff out against you. There’s no fucking way he’s doing this right now. His hands made their way towards the hem of your panties and he slid them down to your ankles, trailing his lips down your inner thigh. He sat still and you knew he was resting a moment to take in the sight of you, spread out and wet.
Your eyes shut as you felt him slide his face between your thighs again. You swallowed harshly and felt his tongue lick another stripe up your pussy, circling around your clit. A moan almost made its way out of your mouth but you bit down on your lip.
Bucky’s mouth closed around your clit and he started to suck, using his tongue to lightly nudge against it. Your hand shot down to grip onto his hair, your fingers tangling into his long locks. This seemed to get him going; he groaned against you, but stopped once he remembered he had to stay quiet.
Your thighs shook around Bucky’s head and you inhaled deeply when you felt his finger circling around your entrance. He gently slid his finger inside of you, curling perfectly to hit your g-spot. A soft whimper fell from your lips and he smirked against you. He shook his head back and forth and pulled you closer with his left hand.
You slapped your other hand over your mouth as felt yourself getting closer to your orgasm. Bucky inserted a second finger, speedily sliding his fingers in and out of your tight, wet pussy. You tugged on his hair harshly as your eyes momentarily rolled into the back of your head and he pulled his mouth away, planting a kiss to your thigh before attaching his mouth to you again.
His tongue was long and felt so amazing, you were nearly in tears from holding in your moans. Bucky’s fingers nudged your g-spot one last time before you became a quivering mess in your chair. He kept going, pleasuring you through your orgasm as you came on his face.
Your eyes were hooded and your mouth was slightly open but nothing came out as you finished, your hips jerking a little as Bucky licked you clean. You slumped in your chair, breathing heavily, and felt him pull your panties back up. His lips planted a kiss to your clothed, sensitive clit before you felt him move away from you.
Bucky appeared out from under the table with a proud smirk, disheveled hair, and red cheeks. Then he smiled - an actual genuine smile - as he took in your wrecked appearance. He made a show of wiping his chin and sucking his finger and you sat up, feeling your thighs shake a little.
You cleared your throat, avoiding his playful stare. “What-what was that?” You whispered, bravely looking up at Bucky now. He licked his lips and chuckled deeply, running his hand through his hair again.
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