How to START THE STORY

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The beginning of a story is arguably the most important part. It's how the reader decides whether they want to keep reading to the end or set it down and find another book. The introduction to a story needs to have a strong hook, just like your English teachers have probably told you to have a strong hook to open your papers. However, unlike with academic writing, fiction openings should not summarize what's to come. They should set up the story and transition the reader to a brand new world—the world you create with your writing.

This is not an easy thing to do. An introduction should grab the readers and strike their intrigue, but one type of opening may interest one person but turn off another. I know you're all looking for me to tell you what the perfect opening would be, but that's impossible. What I will do is describe the most common ways to open a book and discuss their pros and cons.

You should choose a style of opening based on the story you want to tell. No one can dictate to you how that should be. If you're stuck on finding that perfect opening, something you can do is start writing the story from the middle, from just some random scene that you can vividly picture in your head, and work backwards. I did that with several of my books. Just keep backtracking until you get to a comfortable place in the story. That may be a few paragraphs or several chapters. If you don't get a satisfying opening on the first try, don't worry. Keep rewriting. Try opening the story from several different scenes in several different manners. Don't be afraid to try out different or heinous ideas. Sometimes, those end up being the best ones.

Now, onto the technical stuff. The first page of your story should ALWAYS do three things:

1. Introduce the protagonist (or another main character if you must)

2. Reveal their personality

3. Introduce a problem

I cannot stress enough how vital these three elements are to the opening of your story. All three MUST be introduced within the first page (though the problem can come a bit later, but absolutely somewhere in the first chapter. The sooner the better), if you want to hook your reader.

We're going to spend most if not the entire story with the main character. If they're vital to the plot, we probably should be meeting them right at the get-go. We should learn something about their personality. You cannot dryly describe their actions. Give us some thoughts, some flaws and strengths. You don't have to lay out your character's entire personality in just a few lines, but give the readers something to work with. Have you ever wondered why there are no stories about the weather or about pianos or that tree growing in your front yard? We need people (or animals if you're going for an animal/anthropomorphic type story). Someone with a consciousness, someone who can make decisions, who can love and hate. Give them emotions, feelings. We read stories because we're rooting for the protagonist and want them to achieve their goals. It's only logical to start out the story with a character and their development.

Now, I mentioned goals. A character should have goals, a problem to overcome, otherwise they're not very interesting. A goal or problem (this could either be a short-term goal or the major long-term goal. Remember, I said that goals can change throughout the story, but there need to be goals at all times) needs to be introduced somewhere within the first chapter, and as I stated before, sooner rather than later. The sooner you can introduce a problem, the faster your reader can jump into the story, but don't start TOO soon, either. (More on this later.)

Okay, you have the three main elements to an opening, but what are the different ways to open a story?

1. The weather.

ABSOLUTELY NOT. Do NOT NOT NOT open your story with a description about the “gray storm clouds filtered out the moonbeams as the breeze blew across the countryside. A stray dog howled as the pitter-patter of water droplets descended from the sky onto the gloomy city.” Did you even make it through those two sentences without falling asleep? Weather is not interesting. Even if you're starting with a hurricane or tornado or landslide, character(s) need to be present and interact with said weather. When we are chatting with someone and are struggling to find a new topic to talk about, we usually go for the weather. A story should not be idle small-talk. If you want to hook your reader, you have to pull out the interesting conversation.

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