So, I haven’t posted anything in like…. I’m too lazy to go check how long it’s actually been, so I’m gonna say it’s been something like a week. Or more. Probably more.
Anyways, though, I have a reason to be gone! I’ve been writing! Or, rather, re-writing. I’ve been working on the novel I wrote outside of NaNoWriMo—half of it was written in October, the other half in December. My NaNo novel itself is getting itself ready for a total re-write, probably for NaNo next year.
But what exactly have I been doing? Rewriting my beginning. And since I haven’t posted anything in forever, I thought that would make a nice discussion—what makes a good beginning? Let’s start with figuring out what a beginning is. The dictionary states it as:
The event consisting of the start of something.
But the thing with stories, is there’s two beginnings. The beginning of the story, and the beginning of the book. What’s the difference? The beginning of the story is, well, kind of self explanatory. It’s where this whole thing starts—something happens, and it sets off a chain of events that is the story.
The beginning of the book on the other hand, is where Chapter One starts off. Some writers start the book right before this event that starts the story, so that we have a chance to get to know the characters and world. Some authors start us off right when this happens. And some authors use the In Late, Out Early method, and start right in the middle or right after, so that we start off with some action.
So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back to what makes a good beginning. Let’s try a checklist.
A good beginning…
- catches the interest in the reader and makes them want to keep reading,
- represents the story,
- and makes a promise to the reader.
What do these mean?
A good beginning catches the interest in the reader and makes them want to keep reading. This is kind of self-explanatory. You’ve probably learned all about “hooks” in school, and how important it is to have a good first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter. You’ve probably even picked books up to read them and then put them back onto the shelf because they weren’t interesting enough. So, find something interesting to start it off with. Think—if you found this book in the library, would you want to keep reading after glancing at the first page? If yes, then you’re probably on the right track. If not… try again.
A good beginning represents the story. Now what does this mean? Let me reword this. The beginning needs to set the tone of the story. It hints to the reader what will happen in the story and what kind of story they will be reading. If you’re going to have a bouncy, goofy make-fun story, then your beginning needs to reflect that. If you’re going to have a serious story, the beginning needs to be serious. (Want to know more? Listen to this.)
And, a good beginning needs to make a promise to the readers. There are several ways of going about this, but they all make the reader want to keep reading. The first way is to build on the last point I made. Set a tone and show me characters that are fascinating, that I want to keep reading about.
Another thing is to, well, make a promise. Sometimes you do this through the character—the character vows that she’ll find her brother after he was kidnapped, and I’ll keep reading to see this promise fulfilled—to see her rescue her brother.
A third way is to make the reader ask a question. “How does this work?” “Why did he do that?” “What happened to her?” Make me ask questions that I can only find the answer to by reading. The key to this is that the reader has to ask the question. If you put the question in there, and I, reading this, agree, then it won’t be quite so important. But if I ask it to begin with, then you know for certain I want to know the answer—and I’ll keep reading to do so.
And you know what? You can use these techniques for more than just the beginning of a book. Use it at the beginning of a chapter. The beginning of a scene.
Another thing to keep in mind—a good beginning can improve your ending. If you end the book by fulfilling that promise you made at the beginning, then your ending seems more satisfying. Some authors like to end books in cliffhangers, to make the reader want to read the next book. The thing you have to do here is, don’t leave the promise unfulfilled. Complete it. Keep your word. But give me a new promise, a new question to ask. Then I’m satisfied, but wanting more at the same time.