How to Start a Book

So you want to begin a story?

As the Eleventh Doctor (from the TV show Doctor Who) once put it- “We’re all stories, in the end, just make it a good one, eh?”

But even the best of stories need a beginning to, well, begin with. And it’s quite a head-scratcher to even the best of authors to get a head start on that perfect beginning that will leave their readers hooked but also wanting more at the same time. 

So, how does one begin a story? What are the elements that go into making the perfect first line or first paragraph of a story? Dive right into this post to find out!

First things first….

Don’t just assume that you’re an expert. First draft your story opener! This is your bare-bones, skeletal approach, and you can work on the later half the juicy meatier fleshed-out portion of your work much later.

Lay in just enough character and setting description for readers to wade in. You have the rest of the book to fill in the blanks and revise or revisit. Start at the shallow end and delve deeper as the story progresses. Baby steps, as they say!

The many ways to start a story

Start with a bang!

Maybe there’s been an intense explosion at the beginning of your story. Did anyone survive it? Who knows. Unless your reader delves into the rest of the plot, they’ll never know.

Start with a question.

What is the true identity behind your mysterious character? Keep your readers guessing by starting your story off on a mystery about your character or a cryptic, abstract, rhetoric question that will leave them scratching their heads for a while. 

Begin with a quirky or bizarre incident

A seemingly normal character does something utterly bizarre at the start of your story, leaving readers baffled. Eg: A stockbroker with a busy schedule eats cockroaches for breakfast before he leaves to make a quick buck at the stock market. Readers will be more focused on that unusual action than on anything else in the story until you resolve this bizarre development for them.

Use a system of ’10 scenes’

Generate a series of scenes, number them- with scene 1 being the opener, and the rest will be your wrap-ups, twists, turns, and concluding chapters. Plot them separately and connect the dots later. This works especially well when plotting a mystery.

Catapult your reader straight into the action

Why keep them waiting? Drop your reader right into the eye of the storm. As the drama unfolds and emotions run high, this can be quite a cathartic experience for readers. Let them know well in advance who’s in the scene with them and what incidents propel the narrative forward. This is also known as ‘in media res’, wherein an author begins their story ‘in the midst of an ongoing action’, such as a group of tourists plotting against the resident monster of the deserted island on which they’re shipwrecked as they struggle to survive against all odds.

Appeal to the curiosity of readers

Piquing the curiosity of readers is of utmost importance and can sustain their interest longer. Don’t keep the opener entirely cryptic if you’re opting for such an approach, as that might only befuddle readers rather than incite their curiosity.

Start with an image

This will be especially helpful for readers who find it challenging to visualize the story or characters on their own. 

Focus on sensory details 

Sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell are your friends and can aid in a compelling storyline. Example: It reeked of death on the deserted island…

This opener immediately strikes a sense of fear or dread, even disgust, into the minds of readers who’ll only want to know more of what lies ahead, even if they are already bracing for bad news ahead.

Introduce your characters

These can be your main character/protagonist, a side character who will narrate, or even your antagonist. This helps in establishing the voice, be it first-person or third-person perspective, to your readers.

Lastly, write from the heart.

This works fantastically for a feel-good story or one of those Reader’s Digest anecdotes which not only start off in a soulful manner but carry on in a heartfelt manner, with a beautiful consistency that makes you feel for each character and what they go through and often ends up being a tearjerker. A truly heart-wrenching and enriching opener lends a sense of reality to a truly gutting account or can also lend a slice of life quality to the same.

Just some questions to ponder over as you begin your story

  • Does your opener lend authenticity to the story?
  • Does the opener develop the plot or characters in any manner?
  • Why does the opening event matter to your character?
  • What is the weather and time of day that you’ve set this story in?
  • What is the historical significance of the setting, if any?
  • What tense or from whose perspective is this story going to be in?

Tips for a non-fiction opener

Here are some tips on how to make your non-fiction work stand out:

Make it convincing and memorable enough for your reader to continue reading the life story of the person you’re writing about or an event in history that you’re covering. Example: This is the story of how one moment, one slight miscalculation, cost the lives of thousands of innocents.

Remind yourself why this story needs to be told, who you’re writing for, and make the opening all about them and their life or the event that changed their life for better or worse.

Stick to the truth and stay clear of too many embellishments. Like a good relationship, a good non-fic opener is also built on honesty.

Make your opener an emotional and impactful one.

With that, we’ve come to the end of our learning journey about how to begin a story. Don’t worry; I’m still sticking around and will be bringing you loads of more useful information in the forthcoming posts. Do stick around! And before I forget… SHARE THIS POST!!

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