It’s one of the very first questions you ask yourself when you’re about to begin the novel you’ve been pining to write: how, exactly, do I begin this thing?
I think most writers, especially those just starting out, pick the wrong place to begin. I myself have been a victim of the “wrong beginning” syndrome, but I’ve found some valuable advice to help me plan how the story should start off.
Some writers tend to ramble for a few chapters before they really get to the meat of the story. Back in the day, this was the standard; this is why so many of the classics have slow pacing. People used to take the time to really immerse themselves in the story.
However, nowadays people want to jump headfirst into the action. Readers don’t have time for you to build up the world, the characters, or the situation before the action starts. They want to know now, or they are going to put the book down.
So how can you do this? Well, recently I read an article that explained that your beginning should in fact be the very beginning of your ending.
“I have no idea what that means,” you scoff.
Well, imagine the usual curve of a storyline. You’ve got the beginning arc, the rising action, the climax, the resolution. Instead of looking at the climax (or “ending”) as its own separate arc, ask yourself this:
What is the thing that initiates this ending? What action has to happen in order for this ending to exist and come full force at the end of the novel?
Let’s say Author X wants to write a novel about a government conspiracy involving airplanes. Author X starts off the story on a leisurely Saturday afternoon, and Mary, the protagonist, wants to get out of the house. She strolls through a sunny field reminiscing about her recently departed father and admiring the flowers when all of a sudden—PLANE CRASH.
What’s the most engaging part of that whole setup? The plane crash, obviously (and not just because I put it in caps). Instead of the buildup, which is exposition Author X can save for later on in the story, put Mary right in the middle of the field watching the plane crash in horror.
This is the trigger that sends the ball rolling down the hill, leading all the while to the climax. The ending will be a mirror to the beginning. Mary, as a witness to the crash, is pulled into the conspiracy (it just so happens her father was a victim of a plane crash, making it more personal), and finds herself at the end in a spiraling plane. She uses what she’s learned to find a way to get the plane working again, and lands safely.
By finding an engaging moment that starts the time bomb until the climax, and hinting at the ending with this moment, you will definitely grab the reader’s attention and find a great well-rounded story between the bookends.
What other problems have you faced while beginning your novel/story?