I know from experience (as I’m sure you do too) that the start of the story is often the hardest part to write. You can have whole worlds mapped out, extensive plots worked down to the most intricate details, fleshed-out characters, the lot, but when you sit down to embark on this epic journey of creation… Nothing.
So today I’ve got a few tips for you on how to write beginnings (and if you have your own magical kernels of advice I urge you to share them!)
• Start Your Story at the Last Possible Moment: This is one I learned just recently, and actually changed the starting point of my current manuscript because of it. It’s crucial for grabbing the reader’s attention. Your reader doesn’t have the time or patience to read about your main character waking up, having breakfast, travelling to school, sitting through classes, going to football practice and then witnessing a murder on the way home. Show them the murder first. Drop them in the thick of the action. It wouldn’t make sense to start your story after the murder, hence what I mean about the last possible moment, then you’d miss all the fun! Start narrating at the closest point to the first important event in your story, and your reader won’t have time to get bored.
• Your Reader Doesn’t Care (Yet): I know you love your protagonist. You know their backstory, you adore their little quirks and you’re rooting from them from Page 1. You know your baddie is wicked, you despise them for what they’ve done (or perhaps like me you have a little soft spot for them!). I know you’re desperate for that romance to blossom. Guess who doesn’t care? The reader. …Sorry. Like it or not, you need to make them care, as soon as you can. The kid who witnessed the murder earlier? They only saw it because they were moving a tiny cute hedgehog from the road into the park. Bam. The reader cares about the animal-lover and evidently nice person. Remember to show their struggle, show the stakes, so the reader can’t bare to put the book down.
• Try Not to Info-Dump: It’s tempting. I know. Especially with high-concept genres like sci-fi and fantasy, you want your reader to understand what’s going on right from the offset. But this goes back to my last point: they really don’t care yet. Believe it or not, you can give plenty of information at the start without overwhelming or boring your reader. Your title, your cover, your blurb, all of these can and should be giving an indication of what readers can expect. Furthermore, you’d be amazed just how little readers need to know to get engrossed in your book, but not be misled. Show them a newly-formed rebellion, they’ll guess there’s a tyrant leader. Show them a highly emotional break-up, they’ll guess the relationship was facing difficulties. You can weave more details into the story as it progresses, but only give your readers the bare minimum at the start.
• Finally, Ignore All of This: Yup. There we go. Ultimately, assuming you’re working on your first draft, the beginning isn’t that important until you’ve finished the damn story. Start. Write a horrific beginning. If it’s slow, thick with information, even boring, get on with it. Get to the good stuff, and fix it later. That’s what editing’s for.
So there you have it, my tips for writing a super, engaging beginning to hook your readers. There’s plenty related to this that I haven’t covered here, but coming up soon I’ll have a post on prologues, one on introducing characters/settings, basically I’ve got you covered. Thanks for reading, hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, and I’ve given you some food for thought. Feel free to send me any questions, I’d love to help!
Hope you’re having a productive weekend (and are prioritising any upcoming exams over blogging… *nervous sweat bead*). And if you’re not being so productive, fear not! I know writer’s block is a pain - wait… I’ve got a better idea - fun anecdote time!
I once went to an author event, and heard Patrick Ness (author of More Than This, A Monster Calls, etc) say something along the lines of “I wish I earned enough to afford so-called ‘writer’s block’”. If I can find the exact quote, I’ll give it to you. I thought it was a great point at the time. It motivated me for a while, the knowledge that if a writer doesn’t write, a writer doesn’t eat. It worked great… until a few weeks later when I next found my head on my desk as all creativity abandoned me. But writer’s block doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. Tackle it right, and all will be well, oh fellow author. Here’s my recommendations for how to beat a creativity crash (just thought of that phrase, I’ll admit I’m pretty proud). Anyway!
1. Change your surroundings. Perhaps the obvious one, but there’s a reason for that! It works! How long have you been staring at that monochrome greyish wall behind your laptop? Is that sofa even slightly comfy? Or likewise, are you too comfy? Do you need a more productive workspace?
2. Take care of yourself. Again, maybe obvious, but of course you can’t write if you’re dehydrated, or bursting for a pee (you’ve been holding it in for ages as you try to force out another sentence, haven’t you). Eat something, change your clothes, take your meds, get fresh air, have a shower, have a nap! Replenish yourself, you deserve it. This also pairs with the last one, and gives you time away from your writing project. It’s one of those 'it’ll come to you when you’re not thinking about it’ scenarios.
3. Talk about your writing project. Find a friend, relative, significant other, goldfish, stranger etc. Tell them what’s been going on in your fictitious world. Pitch your book to them. Yes, I know you’re most likely an introvert and hate the thought of this, but your book needs you. And you’ll be amazed how interested people are by the concept of an author. People generally really love to hear this stuff.
4. Read some fiction. Immerse yourself in somebody else’s world, get to know their characters and writing style, if not for analysis of their techniques then for a bit of fun and escapism.
5. Read some non-fiction. Specifically on writing techniques. If you know exactly what you’re stuck on, get online, there are hundreds of free eBooks to be downloaded to help you to improve. I hear if you’re stuck on say, prologues, or tense scenes, there’s some great bloggers out there with a wealth of information… ;)
6. Do some marketing. The other big side of being a modern-day author, especially if you’re self-publishing. You’re never finished. Go and do some networking, design a new advert or look up writing events you might attend. Revise your pre-existing blurb, get the word out about your project. This gives you some reflection time and helps you think about what really matters in your book, and means you’re staying productive.
7. Get the tunes on. I talked about this in my last post, but it’s still relevant. Play some music, to accompany your writing or simply to listen and absorb some creative vibes.
8. Write something else. This one’s a bit of a gamble, as it might end up becoming the centre of your attention. Don’t let that happen. Try some flash fiction, or poetry. Write a 2,000 word spin-off scene focusing on one of your side characters, or if story prompts are your thing, go on Tumblr or Pinterest, where there’s a plethora of blogs posting nothing but prompt after prompt. Find one that appeals to you and do what you will with it to get those writing juices flowing (that’s an awful phrase, I’m never using it again).
9. Refer to your outline. You spent a long time planning this project, detailing plot points from start to finish. Have a read over it and see where you are and where the next big moment is, and assess how you can get there. Or, if your outline is only very basic, or even non-existent -
9.5 Backtrack and make an outline. Go back a few scenes and bullet point (or making a timeline works for me) all that’s happened recently. All the movements and interactions. Then, skip ahead a little way and write the little things you’re planning for the next bit. Like a fill-in-the-blanks activity. And seriously consider an outline for the rest of your story.
How do you personally beat writer’s block? Any ancient wisdom you could impart? Or has this post helped you reach a solution? Let me know down in the comments!