"Beginnings are always messy."
-- John Galsworthy
The beauty about being an author is the complete and
utter control we have when creating our stories. Even when stories seem to
"write themselves", we sit in the driver's seat turning the steering wheel
right or left, tapping our foot on the gas or brake.
The same holds true for a story's "beginning". As
authors, if we don't like our story's start, we can tighten up, rearrange
or reconstruct our words so they capture the reader's attention in the
first few sentences, or paragraphs, or pages. After all, we don't want to
lose our readers to other short stories or novels when their fingers are
already gripped around the pages of ours stories!
What makes a good beginning?
Beginnings are messy, or loud, unmistakable,
intriguing, full of life and action. I love Galsworthy's quote. Plop me
down in the messy beginning. Make me think, look, feel, and wonder. Solid
starts offer these things; but, they also offer more. They take care of
some housecleaning by accomplishing some of the following:
set the tone
How can you as an author achieve all this in a few short
sentences, paragraphs or pages? Here are two of my favorite approaches.
The risk/threat approach -
Few things get the reader's heart racing like imminent danger. An
approaching train -with its whistle blowing in the not so far off
distance, while Lucy trips over her shoelace, hurts her ankle and can't
get up off the train tracks. Opening your story with undeniable risk to a
character hooks a reader right off the bat.
If you're unsure how to get going, why not write your
story with little thought of how your first few pages will go. Once you
have your first draft completed, try slicing a bit of an action-packed
scene and moving it up front. You can do a little back-pedaling when it
comes to background, after you've hooked your reader.
The shock approach -
Launching your first few sentences with some out-of-the closet information
about your character is a definite attention getter. Announcing Jeff
gambled away his family's mortgage money on a whim bet grabs the reader's
attention. Most of us want to know more. What will his wife say? How will
he tell his children?
Revealing something about your character's personality
produces curiosity in the reader who wants to see how other characters in
your story will react when they discover what he, the reader...already
Don't be afraid to try out several different beginnings
to see what works for your story, making sure to hook your reader while
providing some of the housekeeping items listed above. Remember, if at
first your don't succeed, write, write again.