Hi. It’s been a while! I’ve had a busy – but FUN – few weeks, reading through WriteMentor applications, judging Coram Voices competition entries, editing, developing a romance novel idea and polishing my MG WIP.
A common theme that has been at the forefront of my mind through each of these projects is ‘beginnings’.
The opening words, paragraph, page, chapter are the hardest part of a story to get right. Your beginning has to work hard. It has to:
1) be original
2) hook the reader
3) raise questions
4) convey a sense of place/ time
5) showcase a strong voice (character or narrative)
6) introduce an engaging character (preferably the protagonist)
7) hint at an internal goal
8) suggest an immediate dilemma
9) mirror/ work with the ending of the book
10) set tone/ atmosphere
11) lead into the inciting incident
12) balance action and/ or dialogue with all of the above
Too much to ask?
It seems not. I’ve read so many openings in the last month that I can see many of you have got this sussed. Whereas, I, on the other hand, am continuing my struggle with the opening of my own WIP. (Yes, it easy to give advice, but less so to implement it!). This struggle has led me to look even closer at the most successful openings that I’ve come across …
The best openings don’t just do all of the above, they go one step beyond.
The best openings are like a snapshot of a character or a moment, capturing the essence of who they are/ what’s happening. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big moment or a grand gesture, it just has to feel like a moment of absolute truth. Ideally (unless it’s stylistic) the author is invisible, creating a moment that connects the reader’s heart directly to the story, so the reader has no choice other than to read the whole novel without putting it down.
So, if, like me, you’re struggling to create this moment of ‘magic’, what should we do? My advice (which I’m also going to follow) is this:
Warm-up to the opening moment – then delete the warm-up.
I’m sure you’ve heard agents, authors and editors say that writers regularly start their books in the wrong place – the second chapter should be the first. This often happens because, in the first chapter, the author is getting to know their character/ getting into the swing of their scene. The first chapter, is essentially, a warm-up. Unfortunately, if this is the case, the reader will be lost by the end of the first page. Take a look at your second chapter and see if this might be the case for you.
If that’s not the case, it might be that you’re opening in the right place, but you need to do a warm-up before this opening. In this situation, try writing the scene that took place before the beginning of your book. This will give you the chance to get into the mindset of the protagonist/ the setting/ the tone/ the voice etc before officially starting your story. This warm-up is for you alone, and hopefully, by the end you’ll be ready to create that all-important magic moment in your revised beginning.
Good luck, writers! I’ll be right here, writing with you!!!