Furry Writers' Guild Forum

The Challenge of Beginings

I’ve been writing my personal project, Timorous, for some time now, I’ve probably written about 10-20k words on it…but they’re all different variations on the opening of the story. Usually I dive through beginnings with ease, but this one’s giving me trouble. I think I’ve bought into that ‘First line is most important’ line of thinking, and that the rest of the work will be sub par if I don’t nail it perfectly before building the rest up. Thing is, I’m quite a prolific writer in general, and could probably knock out the project in its totality in a month or two if I could just knock out this beginning.

Any other writers struggling to begin? To start, this video from Zefrank helps me:

What about you? Any advice? War stories? Do share.

While I think the beginning’s important, it’s also important to remember that you can go back in a second (or third or…) draft and change things. I’d actually suggest that in most cases, you (the general “you,” that is) haven’t gotten the first scene right, let alone the first sentence, right out of the gate; it’s pretty common to be told by your first readers that you’re starting the story too early or, occasionally, too late. I had both of those during the writing of my big novel project–the very first reader of the unfinished first draft thought that it needed to start earlier to show the protagonist’s normal world before it went pear-shaped, and one of the first readers after I finished the second draft thought the first chapter was boring and needed to be cut entirely.

Basically, I wouldn’t worry about nailing it perfectly yet. I’d write with the assumption that you probably haven’t yet. :slight_smile: After you get it finished and get some feedback, and get it through another draft, then you’re at the right point to spend days agonizing over the Most Important First Line. (Which I did; I split the difference between those two first readers, keeping the first chapter but trying to make the opening scene more dynamic, but wanted a first line that would grab you enough to push you through the first scene.)

What Chipotle said.

However if you are looking for tips on where a story should begin I can offer a few:

  1. SOMETHING interesting should be going on right from the start. In a practical sense you need to catch the reader’s imagination in the first paragraph. This doesn’t mean that the scene has to be an action scene, however. You can present a mystery, or introduce tension, or have there be a problem that is shown right up front. How you catch the reader’s interest isn’t super important, but keep in mind that when you do you are making a promise to them. If you pose a mystery, for example, you are promising that it will be answered. If there is a problem, you are going to show the solution (or, that it can’t be solved perhaps).

  2. Very often you will find that the best stories actually begin BEFORE the book starts. This is to say, the events that ultimately kicked off the story take place before page 1 of the book. They may not even appear in the book at all, or they may be shown in a flash back or by relating the events from one character to another. The simple truth is that what started the story isn’t all that important to a book provided that it at least sounds reasonable. What IS important is what got your main character(s) involved in the story, and that is about where you should be starting. This doesn’t mean you have to have them immediately answer the call to adventure, but rather once things are in motion that will force them to make the choice of if they will participate in the story.

  3. If there is one part of your story that is worth rewriting, it is the first 10 pages, perhaps even the first entire chapter. I suggest doing it several times. Try starting it in different ways, at different times, and so forth. Show them to people you think have good judgement and see which ones they like best. Compare them to books you like and see where those stories begin in relation to yours.

  4. Be VERY wary of prologues. I would say that it is safest to avoid them completely for most stories. The trap of prologues is that they tempt you to talk about stuff that happens before chapter one, and in general that is a mistake IMO. Your story should not rely on the reader knowing “what came before” unless it is in a series of books, and even then reminders and backstory can be woven in throughout the rest of the book. Instead, a prologue should be used to set theme and tone. For a masterful example of this look at The Name of the Wind.

When in doubt, I begin with a quotation mark. It’s always served me well.

Beginnings are my bane. I see them so clearly, and entertainingly, in my mind. I’ve submitted stories to some very good markets, and uniformly when the story is good but rejected, it’s because I have a slow beginning. (I know this because the editor(s) have told me so.)

What I’ve learned is to adopt a cinematic/video editing technique: cut on the action. in cinema that means one event follows another, in editing sequence. So someone throws a punch and the next cut is the person getting punched flying backwards. What it means, to me, in writing, is you start the story with something happening and continuing to happen. The story starts with action and hurtles forward, and you fold the exposition in as you go along. The action – not fights, per se, but events – is most important, and you only add enough exposition to make sure the reader is not lost.