Begin with a bang, not a fizzle

Everything in the world we live in has a beginning, a middle and an end right? In my opinion, the beginning of a book is as critically important as any other aspect of the book, in fact, more so. Those first few pages are what capture the reader’s attention, what makes them fall in love, enthralls them and causes them to read the rest of the book. If you fail to capture their attention right from the start, you’ve lost them, forever.

There are some hard and fast rules pertaining to your introductory pages and this can become really confusing. There are a couple of basic elements you can use just to start off with. Your main character or characters should be presented consistently. Try and present a conflict or potential difficulty from the beginning. This could include an antagonist, a theme, the type of society with its conflict etcetera. You can also leave a clue or allude to a secondary subplot that may become relevant at a later stage in the novel.

Try and create a sense of action irrespective of whether the first scene is static. Creating a sense of motion suggests a particular problem and draws the reader in the right direction, causing him to keep turning the pages as he observes the action unfolding.

Right from the start, give the reader a specific idea of the setting or milieu of the story. Be consistent in the use of tone and mood of the language, if you are not, you may start in the wrong register and spoil the entire story. For example, if you start with overtly emotional words, you may risk having no words left when you get to truly dramatic scenes. However, being unemotional or facetious when you want to take on a more serious tone, you lose certain essential aspects of the story and the characters in your story

Once I have completed the first draft, I ask myself certain basic questions which help me hone in on possible mistakes or omissions. There is a multitude of excellent books on the subject out there, so read and research as much as possible.

When you read your introduction, did you feature your main character or, at least one of your characters? If you did not, is there a specific reason and what did you focus on instead?

Is your main character fully assimilated with all the other aspects of your story? Can we see his or her opinions in relation to the relationship they have with other characters, or with your setting?

Are your characters clearly defined in the opening paragraphs so that your reader does not become confused as to who does what?

Is the character you chose in the opening paragraphs the right character to “do the job”? Would another character have been more fitting?

Did you choose the right point of view, whether it be first person, second person or third person?

Did you choose the appropriate setting to start with? Does it give the reader a clear idea as to the milieu in which things take place?

Have you been either too subtle or too obvious with the dilemmas your characters have to deal with?

Do the problems faced by your character appear trivial when read in context?

When writing in genres such as fantasy or science fiction, you deal with a new set of issues.

When a reader reads your introduction, will he know where he is? Is he on earth, another planet, a different dimension? This is where world building is of crucial importance.

Will the reader know whether he is in the past, the present or, the future? If these are implied and not directly stated, did you give enough information to make it clear to your reader? The trick lies in providing just enough information and not so much information that the reader gets bogged down and becomes confused.

Are your characters human or not? If not, did you give enough clues on how differently your character understands the world from a human point of view?

Did you use word choice and clear context to show the story is either based in science fiction or based in fantasy?

Did your choice of words paint a clear picture of the differences between earth and your setting the planet Zirka for example?

Did you make the mistake of including too many strange, self-created words to try and make your location more authentic? Such as “The bligstruffer fixed his gaze on the tolper, pulled out the zapperwang and fired, flinging the tolper across the zigger wall”. If you have, the reader will become confused and disengaged almost immediately.

Never start with a flashback. The reader hasn’t had time to become acquainted with the story itself, and therefore there is no context and instead of adding depth and understanding you spoil the whole opening. Dream sequences don’t work either. They don’t convey anything real and come across as boring, confusing and contrived.

When you start with dialogue, be careful not to leave the reader floating aimlessly with no real foundation or, mainstay. Make sure they know where they are, when they are, who the character is. If you don’t start doing this right away, the reader may start filling in the gaps themselves, making all the wrong assumptions.

If you feel your story is worth telling, make sure it is told as well as you possibly can, from the very beginning…If you don’t, your beginning may very well become your end.

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