Updated: May 15
There are great story beginnings, and there are uninspiring story beginnings.
There are action-packed story beginnings, and there are slow, smooth, or otherwise tempting story beginnings… ones that crook their fictional fingers at whoever dares to peek beyond the cover.
“Don’t you want to play?” they want to know.
There are also story beginnings that focus on the plot and those that focus on the setting... ones that introduce the villain right away... and those that ease audiences into the drama at hand by letting them get acquainted with the protagonist first.
There are even story beginnings that jump right to the end of the book – or perhaps somewhere in the middle – instead of following an expected linear timeline from start to finish.
Really, there are so many story beginnings out there with so many different characteristics that it’s going to take a solid three blog posts to scratch the surface of how to handle them.
So, without further ado… “once upon a time,” “there was a boy named Eustace Scrubb,” for “it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
In other words, let’s talk about writing your story beginning into first-draft existence.
Before we go any further, let me address the plagiarism in the room before some C.S. Lewis or Jane Austen fan reports me to the literary police and revokes my creative writing license.
While “once upon a time” is a universally used fairy tale starter, “There was a boy named Eustace Scrubb” is the first half of the opening line to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” is how the equally famous Pride & Prejudice begins.
How about your story? How should it begin? And are you even 100% certain about what a beginning is, much less what yours should be?
If not, considering the following...
Go ahead and roll your eyes if you must, but there’s a lot to the beginning of a story – so much so that, yup, we’re going to define it as the start or opening of a narrative... no matter how much that makes you want to say “no duh.” (And, if you just can’t stop yourself from saying it, I won’t blame you one bit.)
A story’s beginning is its introduction. It’s the segment where readers get their first taste of who they’re dealing with, along with what, when, where and how. So (more than likely) enter in the main character, setting, and plot.
More than likely. Though, as we’ve already acknowledged, story beginnings are a very diverse lot. To say the least.
The truth is that every single story beginning gets to be as “normal” or as “different” as it wants to be. So there are plenty of exceptions to just about any so-called rule you want to apply to yours in particular or the literary community as a whole.
With that said, especially when you’re working on the first draft, here’s a tip you might want to take. Unless, of course, you’re bound and determined to be the exception in this regard too.
If that's not the case though, don’t worry too much about being different. Or unique. Or going down in the annals of literary greats for famous first lines.
Somehow, I sincerely doubt that C.S. Lewis or Jane Austen had those goals in mind when they set out writing any one of their many works. My guess is that they did whatever pre-writing prep worked for them – if any at all – then sat down and started writing with a little literary smile on their faces, ready to enjoy the adventures ahead of them.
Aim for that goal, and your story’s beginning is automatically off to a strong start.
Need more tips like that? Stay tuned for Thursday's Writing Challenge. It might save your manuscript.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on starting your story here.