Our last writer’s meetup offered the subject of beginnings. We discussed first sentences, the rules editors expect of writers, and how first sentences catch your attention.
I’m surprised at the writer’s rule of “Don’t start with a prologue, a dream, the weather, character or setting description, or speaking directly to the reader.” because so many stories already do this. I also find that any rule, however well intended, can be broken if done right.
The first chapter must present the main problem. It should catch your attention, provoking the reader to want more, and to setup the story to continue to subsequent chapters. The main protagonist must appear realistic, but also incite empathy from the reader. Readers want to root for a hero, to follow them along their adventure.
You should also introduce the setting, and the main conflict to the storyline.
But where to you start your story?
I start at the beginning of the main conflict, or I start where the character faces the inner conflict they must overcome. From there, I work towards the resolution.
Here’s some advice:
"Strong beginnings start in the middle of the story. You can fill in back-story later. I like to see the protagonist in action at the start so that I get a feel for who the character is right off the bat. We often get submissions with cover letters that begin: ‘I know you asked for the first 50 pages, but the story really gets going on page 57, so I included more.’ If the story really gets going at 57, you probably need to cut the first 56."
– Mike Farris, Farris Literary Agency
If you’re having trouble starting a story- START ANYWHERE! You’ll edit later anyway. Start with a scene and work from there.
There’s no reason why you must write your story in order. This method helps me work through writer’s block as well. If a scene ends up blocked, I move to another one.
You’ll get to the end of the story- but you need to begin the story first.