Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I've often heard that we should start at the beginning but sometimes I wonder just where the heck the beginning is. And I've often heard it said that writers start in the wrong place and they need to get rid of the first chapter or two. Supposedly, it's a novice writer thing. And I kind of think so.

About a month ago, I agreed to do a critique for a very novice writer. (I had lots of help when I was getting started so believe I should return the favor.) Her novel was to be a romantic suspense. It started with the main character waking up, laying in bed with a flashback to her youth. The chapter continued with the character getting up, working out, taking a shower, brushing her teeth then going to get hair done, nails done at a spa, lunch and some shopping. It went on like this for "4" chapters with an occasional info dump added in. All in first person too. Finally in the 5th chapter,(about 60 pages in) we get two sentences of a hint to the novel's story then we go back to more of the same as before. I quit reading shortly after. All of this info just took up space on the page. It didn't serve any function.

These days, a writer just can't start like this. The reader won't wait for the "good" stuff. We have to catch the reader right away, give them a reason to read on.

There's been a lot written on great starts, by smarter, more experienced writers than myself so I'll not even go there. I will recommend Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell though. He has a GREAT chapter on the beginnings with some excellent examples.

The thing to remember about beginnings is you have to begin somewhere. If you don't begin, you won't get anywhere. So, whether you decide to begin with a back story info dump or drop your reader in the middle of an action scene - start! If you want to start with the weather or with a conversation, great. Just start!

You don't have to have a great beginning right off the bat. You can perfect your beginning later.

So, do you struggle with beginnings? What's your favorite way to begin a story?

1 comment:

Sandra said...

I don't usually struggle with beginnings . . . well, let me rephrase that. I don't struggle with beginnings with my fanfiction or with original short stories. I once started to write what was to be a novel. The first chapter was fine, the second got bogged down in what you just described, too much back story and descriptive stuff and not enough action.
It really is hard to be introducing an original character and not go heavy on the backstory and description.
*sigh* Another thing I need to work on. ;-)