If you’ve ever struggled to get the beginning of your story just right, know that you’re not alone. Many of us struggle with the first few chapters. Beginnings are challenging because they carry so much weight in your overall story. They need to grip the reader’s attention, enticing them to want to experience the adventure that follows.
The beginning of your story should:
Hook the reader
Pique their curiosity
Introduce setting, character, conflict, tone
Introduce questions that will keep the reader turning the page looking for answers
It’s no wonder they’re a challenge! Today I’m going to share 6 tips on how to write beginnings that will capture the minds of your readers.
6 TIPS FOR WRITING CAPTIVATING BEGINNINGS
1 | INTRODUCE YOUR CHARACTER(S) EARLY
No characters=no story. Readers pick up a book to follow the story of a person. If you don’t provide an opportunity for the reader to connect with your character right away, then they’ll have no reason to care what happens to him/her. By giving the reader a chance to connect with your character from the start, you’re giving your reader a reason to care — and a reason to turn the page to find out what happens next.
A few ways to introduce your character:
Name your character early on. Names provide identity and familiarity.
Give hints about your character’s appearance. Even just one detail is enough to trigger an image in your reader’s mind.
Let the reader know the approximate age of your character. This doesn’t meant to come right out and say your character is 30 years old. What it means is if you’re writing about a 90-year-old, don’t write the character in a way that will have your readers imagining a 20-year-old. In other words, avoid confusing your reader.
Give your character a predominant personality trait.
2 | OFFER A GLIMPSE OF THE SETTING
Settings ground and immerse your reader in the story, but be careful to keep it short. Only a sentence or two is necessary. It’s also important to orient your readers to time-sensitive information. If your story takes place in 1950, you don’t want to have your character talking on a cell phone. Offering a glimpse of the season is another way to immerse your reader in the story. Did leaves crunch under their feet? Was the sun baking off the hot sand? Were fat snowflakes covering the ground with a dusting of white?
3 | SHOW CONFLICT
Just like with characters: no conflict=no story. Your character should be at odds with someone or something from the start. Conflict engages the reader and provokes questions that need to be answered, keeping the pages turning because the reader wants and needs to know how it will be resolved.
4 | INTRODUCE QUESTIONS: THE HOOK
Your hook should end with an invisible question mark. What do I mean by this? Be sure your opening scene leaves the reader asking, “Why?” “How?” “Who?” as this will keep the reader turning the pages in search of answers.
PRO TIP: Once a question is answered, introduce another question.
5 | SET THE TONE
Your opening chapter should set the tone for your entire book. Is your story funny? Sad? Scary? Setting the tone right from the start engages your reader. Avoid opening with a sarcastic or snarky tone if you’re overall story is supposed to be a sad love story.
6 | BEGIN YOUR STORY AT THE RIGHT TIME
Open with what matters, the place where the adventure truly begins. Ask yourself, what one thing needs to happen for your story to truly take off? Do your readers really need to know about the details leading up to your character boarding the plane for the trip of a lifetime? Probably not. The adventure begins the minute they board the plane or, better yet, when they step off the plane and into the heat of the California desert for the first time.
PRO TIP: Avoid pre-loading your reader with a bunch of background information, and don’t info dump backstory (no matter how tempting it is or how vital it is to the plot). Instead, pepper it throughout the following chapters. Think about it: do you want to hear the life story of a person you just met? Or would you rather take the time to get to know them slowly?
As you can see, beginnings are a delicate balancing act in which we need to provide a lot of information in an engaging and enticing way without resorting to info dumping. But the more you practice and incorporate the elements above, the easier it will get to write beginnings that capture the minds of your readers.
What do you find most challenging about writing beginnings? Share in the comments below!