“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

Three Ways to Write Good Beginnings

Just like with people, it’s important for a book to make a good first impression. Good beginnings are vital, because it is your chance to draw your reader into the story. The first few pages, even the first sentence, can be what lead your reader to stay with it until the end.

write good beginnings

Hooking your reader can be extremely hard to do, so it’s good to keep a few things in mind as you’re writing. Here are three of my tips.

1. Have a fantastic first line

This is the hook that needs to grab your reader right away. With the right first line, you’ll have them interested as soon as they get to the end of the sentence. Write Practice contributor, Kellie McGann, posted an article about writing a great first line.

A lot of the time these hooks are crisp, clean, and intriguing, but not necessarily. You can have a longer starting line, too, one full of mystery that makes me think, “What happens next?” It all depends on your style. Here are a few of my favorites.

My mother thinks I’m dead. – Legend by Marie Lue

He’d stopped trying to bring her back. – Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love. – The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

So we drank it—the two of us. – Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

2. Introduce your main character as soon as possible

Your protagonist is the character your reader is going to spend the most time with, so if you show them who it is and what you’re in for right away, it’s easier to set up the story. This doesn’t necessarily include prologues. I personally try to avoid those as much as possible. But your first chapter and your first scene should include your main character.

3. Hint at what’s to come

And finally, at the end of your first chapter, there should be some kind of foreshadowing about what’s going to happen in the next chapter, or even in the rest of the book. My rule of thumb is I try to have a good hook at the beginning of a chapter and at the end.

That’s how you keep people reading.

What draws you into a story? What are some of your favorite book beginnings?

PRACTICE

Pick a story you’ve wanted to start for a while now—or come up with a new idea, it’s up to you—and write five different first sentence possibilities. Share them in the comments, if you’d like, and be sure to give your fellow writers a little love, too. Have fun!

About The Magic Violinist

The Magic Violinist is a young author who writes mostly fantasy stories. She loves to play with her dog and spend time with her family. Oh, and she's homeschooled. You can visit her blog at themagicviolinist.blogspot.com. You can also follow The Magic Violinist on Twitter (@Magic_Violinist).

  • Nina Falkestav

    Great post! I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month and am currently trying to write a great ending to my fantasy YA novel, but am nervous and find it difficult to get it righr. Do you have any tips to share on writing good endings? Perhaps a post on that for nexy time? (But please make it quick, NaNoWriMo ends on the 30th of Nov! 😛 )

    • Devon Rowe

      It’s great you’re trying to write a YA novel. I’m in the process of getting my very first YA novel published at the moment, the details are on my site http://www.devonrowebooks.com.

      The main advice that I can give is to know first what feeling you want your readers to be left with at the climax of your story. You’d think it’d be common knowledge but I’ve shared my experiences with writing an ending to a few writers and I’ve seen that they aren’t all that sure what emotions they want to convey.

      And depending on what you’re wanting to do with the book, such as continue on with a sequel, should factor in as well. I say this because I know some people believe leaving a novel on a cliffhanger is best when this isn’t always true.

    • dduggerbiocepts

      I think someone once said that: “A books ending is when the main character solves the books problem, or they die trying to solve it, or they solve part of the problem and decide to try to solve the remainder in another book – which is when you know you have a series.”

  • Joseph M

    I’ve been working on this Chapter 1 for over a month, and I think I’ve finally reached a beginning that catches the reader’s attention. Any thoughts?
    (It’s supposed to be in italics, since it’s playing over the radio):
    On a grimmer note, this morning, seventeen-year-old Amanda Johnston was found dead beside her car. Police say that they know noth-

    • Emilia

      To confirm that the begining is “On a grimmer note, this morning, seventeen-year-old Amanda Johnston was found dead beside her car. Police say that they know noth-” I think you should add something else in the police statement. Goos the idea that is starts with a mistery but it is quite often (sad that it is) that people are fond dead and the police does not know anything. So, maybe you want to give a hint about what the “premise” is of the book here. hope it helps.

      • Joseph M

        Okay… Is this better? I’ve added the next bit, just to show how it fits in with the story.
        (italics)On a grimmer note, this morning, seventeen-year-old Amanda Johnston was found dead beside her car, the latest in a series of murders. Police say that they still know noth-(end of italics)
        Justin Tsai, sitting in the passenger seat, pushed a button and turned off the news. He sighed.
        “It’s always bad news, isn’t it,” he said. His friend, Matthew, grimaced before putting on the brake, slowing the car to a stop at a red light.
        “That’s pretty much how life works,” Mathew said, “People only want to hear the bad news.”
        “But this is sick. First that Jeremy guy and what’s her name –Elise?– last week, now another death. Someone needs to be investigating this. The police sure aren’t trying. I mean, have you heard anything about the investigation? It’s always ‘we know nothing.’ ”
        “Why aren’t you looking into it?” Matthew said, clamping his foot down on the acceleration pedal.
        “I don’t know. I’m not good enough or smart enough or anything. Better leave it to someone that’s capable. Besides, what can a sixteen-year-old do?”

    • Ayse Nur

      Your text here You can add them like this

      • Gary G Little

        Not really. Replace the “.i” with em.

        • Ayse Nur

          “em” will also italicize the text but “em” and “i” has different semantic functions according to this documentation.

          • Gary G Little

            What you need to find is the documentation for the markup text needed and processed by THIS forum display engine. The only thing I have found that consistently italicizes text in this forum is em and /em. I have tried the normal HTML i and b commands and have not gotten them to work, in this forum.

          • Gary G Little

            I love it when computers make me a liar. I just tried i, b, and u, and they all work. But when I tried them in the past they didn’t. I think that was because I was trying them in draftin.com, and there you have to use em.

            Please note, I did not add the “.” after i, b, or u.

  • J Arias

    My current work in progress for Nanowrimo:

    I was a thief. A liar. A traitor. A mage. So basically, the whole world wanted me dead.

    • Ayse Nur

      I feel this is kind of pretentious, all those attributes one after another and there are just too many to take in. I also think there should be some evidence regarding “the whole world wanted me dead.” part. Like this:

      “I was a …, because….. I was also a … because…..” or “I was both a … and a …, because I did so and so (insert some details enough to convince the reader here) So basically, the whole world wanted me dead.”

      This kind of structure may work better in this situation.

      • J Arias

        Thank you! I rewrote it and it flows much nicer now. 🙂

        • Ayse Nur

          You’re welcome. I am glad if I could be of any help.

        • Gary G Little

          Just don’t use “basically”, “basically” because “basically” makes it weak. I think you have a hell of an opener in the following:

          “I was a thief. A liar. A traitor. A mage. The whole world wanted me dead.”

          OR

          “I was a thief, a liar, a traitor, and a mage. The whole world wanted me dead.”

          • J Arias

            Thank you! I really appreciate all the feedback I’m getting for this 🙂

    • Emilia

      Great introduction. I want to know why are you still alive.

      • J Arias

        haha so do I 🙂

  • Emilia

    Dear all, I appreciate all the feedback you can provide. I am new at writing and I can learn a lot form your feedback. Thank you

    Beginning:
    I have always thought of myself as quite a talker but I had no idea of what a real talker looked like until my daughter starting talking, a couple of years ago.

    “Mom, what do you want to play? What about
    Fish… no, no, what about War, no, no Old
    Maide, Old Maide?” We had just left Lisbon Airport and a thousand
    questions had already been fired at me.

    • Devon Rowe

      I like it, I really do. I can’t say I wouldn’t chosen a different route because in the first sentence alone you’ve already introduced your main character (I’m assuming), and you’ve also provided a bit of characterization at the same time.

      As a reader I already know several important things about the character, which is very important.

    • Levy

      There’s a small gramtic error there.. Instead of “daughter starting” it should be “daughter started”. But despite that it’s a great starter 🙂

  • FritziGal

    How about this?

    Joe Mooney had asked me to meet him at the Rusty Nail Tavern, and I’d been there for nearly an hour when, suddenly, here he came, through the plate glass window.

    • Sweet. Immediate action. Gota love that.

    • Emilia

      I like the “plate glass window” and how it appears in the sentence. I am not sure about the word suddenly. It seems more “tell” than “show”. Any other ways of “showing” that moment?

    • Swapna Sanand

      Hi FritiziGal, I too liked the imagery that popped up in my mind when you used the words “plate glass window” and I agree with Emilia who says that it seems more “tell” than “show”.

  • “My name is Sophie. It used to be Linda. And once upon a time, it was Cheryl Rose.” First line(s) of my memoir so far. I am new to this type of writing. I’ve done lots of academic articles and grant proposals but not story telling. I have found this site to be very helpful, thanks! I really have no idea how interesting my writing is. I know that I tell too much and will have to rewrite some parts. Right now, I am just trying to write as much as I can each day, knowing that I will revisit it all probably many times. So, is this intriguing at all?

    • It’s really intriguing. Especially because this is for a memoir. I’m curious about why your name was changed so much. Of course my over active imagination is filling in the gaps with fantastical things that you would see in spy movies. But yeah, defiantly intriguing.

      • I love this Sophie. Im interested in knowing why the different names,,,I have a similar experience as I grew up, I had different names at different stages that reflected my personality at the time. Would love to know more.

        • Thanks for the support. It really is an oddly isolating experience-to write. It’s hard for me to judge it. It’s so helpful to be able to post here. It does feel very exposing though. But feel free to be blunt. I don’t take much personally and I appreciate any feedback. Since you asked 🙂 here is the next little bit. The ‘he’ that I refer to is implicated in the Title of the book at this point.

          My name is Sophie. It used to be Linda. And once upon a time it was was Cheryl Rose.

          He might say that I am crazy or an alcoholic. So before you get to meet, I have to tell you a few things about my adventures before him. Remember, he wasn’t there for any of this and he files away selective details for future ammunition.

          I was adopted at three days old.

          It’s both exciting and nerve racking to post this! 🙂 Peace, Sophie

          • Thank you for replying. This definitely a good place to post things and get support and feedback. Keep at it, I am beginning to see we are all joined by our individual stories, the only difference is that we can come together and share those experiences and support each other. Even though we are on different paths along the way there are times our paths converge and we can share a moment with another who is also on a path of self discovery.

            (Hope this makes sense, read this as I was having my morning brew- coffee- and that is what came to mind,)

    • rosie

      Yeah, Sophie, it’s great!

      And that’s the best thing to do: to write every day (even if you think it’s rubbish) and that’s how you naturally get better. Every amazing story-teller had to start somewhere.

    • LaCresha Lawson

      So awesome! Keep going!

    • Emilia

      welcome to the club. I feel the same way. Trying to figure this out. Thank you for shaing. It helps me feel better that I am not alone on this.

    • Swapna Sanand

      Very intriguing, I love it.

    • Obi-Wan

      that got me hooked…. And I don’t usually get hooked

  • manilamac

    Ike. Irwin K. Evans hates the name Irwin & considers his middle name even worse, so he’s Ike Evans. Many people who’ve known him for years have no idea what his real name is. That’s okay with him. Though he’s spent years taming his rampaging paranoia down to—call it exacting over-cautiousness—he still likes it that few people could give a questioner his actual, official name.

    After staying out of Manila for so many years—slaking that paranoia—Ike is working himself through a cautious homecoming.

  • dduggerbiocepts

    Good and concise advice regarding good beginnings. I like the three steps.

    I would disagree with your link referencing more literary novels found in the “top 100 first lines from famous novels” as good first line examples for today’s fiction markets. I would bet that those “famous” first lines would capture little significant readership in today’s high energy fast paced fiction markets. It’s one thing to admire and appreciate authors from the past abilities, it is an entirely different matter to think that what made them “famous” then – is adequate for successful writing today. They simply don’t compete with the how most fiction is written today.

    While its true these literately famous first lines connect to the book’s problem and basically define the concept, they really don’t connect very well to a modern reader. If you are writing for a living, I suggest you read not only the first lines, but the first two paragraphs of the most popular best selling fiction writers – and in the particular genre you are going to write in.

    For example, take a look at David Baldacci’s – THE WHOLE TRUTH. Its first line, isn’t in first line of Chapter One. The real first line that connects to the problem of the book – and the reader – is in the Prologue. The “hook” is extended from a paragraph of dialogue and into the first few lines of Chapter One. Like all good fishermen Baldacci sets the hook at least twice to make sure he has you. Thinking that the first line – is simply one sentence that sets the hook is probably an unrealistic expectation. Most of us will invest in at least a couple of paragraphs of a book before putting it down, or getting more comfortable for a longer read.

    PROLOGUE

    “Dick, I need a war.”
    “Well, as always, you’ve come to the right place, Mr. Creel.”
    “It won’t be a typical conflict.”
    “I never expect typical from you.”
    “But you have to sell it. You have to make them believe, Dick.”
    “I can make them believe anything.”

    CHAPTER 1

    AT PRECISELY ZERO HOURS UT, or midnight Universal Time, the image of the
    tortured man erupted onto the world’s most popular Web site.

    The first six words he spoke would be remembered forever by everyone who heard them.

    “I am dead. I was murdered.”

  • EndlessExposition

    My WIP in a way has two first lines, because it begins with a story within a story. The story the main character is writing begins, “Kate crept slowly up the stairs, the dusty boards creaking under her feet like ghosts.” And the first line of the actual story is, “Nope. No good.” As always, reviews are much appreciated!

    • Gary G Little

      I like “Nope. No good.” It’s got a lilt that trips along nicely on the tip of the tongue. 🙂

  • FritziGal

    Still playing with openings. Here’s my second one:

    I try to see only the best in people, but hey, there’s got to be something seriously wrong with a guy who throws cats in the river just so he can jump in and save them.

    • Obi-Wan

      Hilarious! That one is a keeper! Not only does it keep the readers curious for more but it also makes them glad they opened the book to an amusing start.

  • Banana Boat Charlie

    It was halfway between street and sidewalk–half in light and half in darkness that the man who had no business being there ran.

    It’s taken me about two years to come up with a reasonably good first line. This post was the final stepping stone, so, thank you.

  • I’m just going to share a few first sentences that I’ve had. Some are good, others are just mediocre, but that’s okay. Live and learn.

    Lisa sat in the decrepit airplane seat, elbow propped up against the hard, plastic armrest, staring out the tiny window at the ocean below.

    A blaring sound from her iPhone shook Katara from the depths of slumber.

    I paced around in the ring, my feet knowing how to move without me telling them, my eyes trained on every movement that my opponent made; each flex of the muscle, twitch of the eye, none of it eluded me.

    Krito sat at his computer, the glow of the screen reflecting off his glasses as he turned the CD case over in his hands.

    And last but not least my NaNo novel’s opening line: There are different types of monsters in the world.

    • Gary G Little

      The last one definitely has a hook; enough to want to continue.

    • Swapna Sanand

      Katherine, the last sentence is a fantastic hook! Go for it!

    • Obi-Wan

      I really love the last one!

      And just a suggestion for the other starters; You should probably try beginning the chapter peeking into what is going on inside the head of your character instead of what they are currently physically doing.

  • Mari Elizabeth Tibbals

    How’s this? It’s a rough draft of my first paragraph:
    “There was an art to living in the ass-end of nowhere, Enabrin was sure of it. The problem, of course, was finding the fortune of perfecting the art—or discovering it in the first place. If Enabrin had any art at all, he felt it must be akin to finger painting—clumsy and childish. Saarethi, though, was a master. He had the Waterfront District
    dancing to his tune like a conductor of some grand orchestra. Crime was his symphony;
    every pocket picked, every ounce of Dragons Dust moved, every back-alley murder
    a note played to the rhythm of his baton.”

    • Kristi Cheatham

      Wow! I love your descriptions. It painted a most interesting picture in my mind. I can’t wait to read more 🙂

  • FritziGal

    An opening that might be something to build on:

    So, okay, I’m not really proud of the way I met my husband — we were handcuffed together in a gambling raid — but then, marriage is a crap-shoot, no matter how you look at it.

    • Kristi Cheatham

      I love the sense of humor right off the bat. This is going to be a great read 🙂

      • FritziGal

        Kristi – I agree that humorous openings can make for a great read (usually). And then we have those that are anything but! Like so:

        I killed my mother on the day I was born, and it all went downhill from there.

        • Kristi Cheatham

          Very true!

  • LaCresha Lawson

    I love this article. I am too nervous to try! It is so exciting! I will leave you all in suspense. Thank you for this article.

  • Kristi Cheatham

    Opening lines, “Book One”

    Death has always seemed a part of me. You could even say that my life began with it. On the night I entered into this world, my mother, Elisabelia, departed it. She was fifteen years of age when her father sent her across the sea to marry a complete stranger who was no less than ten years her elder.
    A young knight by the name of Daniel, who was a few years older than she, had
    been sent along to guard her. It has been rumored that he loved Elisabelia
    deeply, and on the eve of her wedding, he tried to take his own life.

  • Seemu

    Hello Everyone! I’m a complete Newbie so apologies in advance if what I post is crap. Here’s my opening line (technically 3 sentences, whoops).

    “I was soaring through the tempest winds ready to rain the the Earth with cherry blossoms when I felt it. My sister had jumped from the heavens. I willed Time to stop, but given how he was still angry with me I knew he would pay me no heed.”

  • Claudia

    There were babies in that house. Lots of babies. Babies beneath the floorboards. Infants between the walls. We always knew Sadie Mae Mack was one crazy bitch but we didn’t know the half of it. We were kids. How could we possibly know?

    • Tara Aggarwal

      Definitely hooked my attention. While it provides an eerie description, there is a splash of humor as you throw in the description of the woman.

      • Claudia

        Thanks, Tara.

    • Danielle

      Aside from the fact that these kids used “bitch” as a description, made me laugh. Over-All: It was a well composed paragraph 🙂

  • Seemu

    “I was soaring through the tempest winds ready to rain the the Earth with cherry blossoms when I felt it. My sister had jumped from the heavens. I willed Time to stop, but given how he was still angry with me I knew he would pay me no heed.”

  • Tara Aggarwal

    Here is something I’ve worked on for a while:

    The knife felt cool in my palm, and I could feel the rigid edge press into my skin, yet not quite breaking to draw blood. That would not do. Slowly, I drew the glinting weapon from my boot where I was crouched. Without hesitation, I threw the blade across the entrance of the street. The dagger landed in a wooden crate, drawing the Sentinel’s attention. Immediately, the soldier came to where the knife was, not bothering to look where I was hid- so inexperienced. With measured, quiet footsteps, I came up behind him. I gave him a gift of unconsciousness, breaking his fall with my arms. I wrapped my fingers around his ankles, lugging the man to behind several boxes where he would be unseen. Now, I was on a clock.

    • Claudia

      Well-written, Tara.

      • Tara Aggarwal

        Thank you!

    • Gary G Little

      Do you have other versions of the opening sentence? This has a good hook, but “not quite drawing blood” would read better.

      • Tara Aggarwal

        Thank you for the correction! I knew that didn’t sound quite right!
        And I do have another opening:

        “There was no place for criminals.” Solo received that message everytime she barely escaped a bullet.

    • Swapna Sanand

      Tara, your description is intriguing. I also liked the way you ended it ‘Now, I was on a clock.’

  • Gary G Little

    1. “Oops,” followed by a slight click and a very brief, very bright flash.
    2. Zzzt! a static discharge snapped from a finger, followed by a distraught “Oops.”
    3. A slight click preceded a brief, brilliant flash.
    4. Zzzt! Click. Flash.
    5. “Oops.”

    Ahh what the heck, here’s the whole thing. It’s only about 350 words and is nothing but an exercise in dialogue.

    “Oops,” followed by a slight click and a very brief, very bright flash.

    “What did you do!?”

    “Nothing, I did nothing. But something happened.”

    “Well, you certainly did something!”

    “Now we sound like Krause, ‘Something from Nothing.'”

    “Yeah, check the setup.”

    “Holy crap …”

    “What? And if you tell me ‘nothing’ I swear I’ll shove that table up …”

    “No … it’s gone.”

    “What’s gone?”

    “The experiment.”

    “I checked it not a minute ago. It can’t be gone,” that was followed by a “zzzt!” and “Damn!”

    “What?”

    “Static. Walked across the carpet and touched the table.”

    “Uh oh.”

    “What!?!?”

    “That’s all I did. Walked across the carpet, and touched the framework holding the experiment.”

    “Holy crap … What’s the potential in a static discharge?”

    “Not sure, ten maybe twenty thousand volts.”

    “Ahh man … Our setup was calibrated for eight thousand volts!”

    “Holy crap. Was the recorder running!?”

    “Yes, thank goodness, yes it was. Let me reload the file. You ready?”

    “Yeah, put it on the high def display, and slow it down.”

    “There, that’s me, walking, I reach for the frame, there, there’s the arc. Jeez, must be fifteen thousand volts, damn, look, the plates are moving …”

    “Look at that … That’s the click we heard … The plates making contact … My god … Magnify … Look at that … A bubble, incredibly small, what …”

    “The flash …”

    “Quick, use the Inverse Fractal Transform function … get the times and convert’m to Planck times … Look at that …”

    “Holy … We just created a universe. See, here, the singularity, then expansion, then the flash when matter starts to condense and photons form … But our universe can’t hold it, so, what, I dunno, squeezes it out?”

    “Just static, it all started from static discharge.”

    “Wonder where they are?”

    “Huh?”

    “The universe we just created. Where is it? What’s happening to it?”

    “I dunno. Probably has some televangelist preaching about how the universe can only be 10,000 years old.”

    “Yeah,” and a chuckle, “What he don’t know. It’s only ten minutes old.”

    “So, feel like God?”

    “Hell no. I’m starving. Let’s go get dinner.”

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  • I’ve read some good story beginnings on this thread – so awesome! Personally, I don’t rely on an author’s first sentence whether the story’s going to be good or not – however, it’s a good hook to keep me interested. I LOVE long beginnings. Not sure why. One of my stories has this beginning:

    “Perhaps one of the most exciting things that could happen in a small town is, nothing at all.” – Rewrite, short story, unfinished

    Ah, highly anti-climactic wouldn’t you say? It’s been a while since I got back into creative writing. Thank you for this post. It definitely served as a reminder for me to keep going.

  • Auset Mothudi

    “A soft gasp floated its way through the room as the girl woke up. The girl’s body convulsed as though her body was switching on like a light. As though everything was right in that one moment. She slowly sat up and looked around her, wondering where she was. “What the hell?” she croaked, feeling the soft bed covers beneath her.

    “Hello?”The girl yelled, hoping to hear an answer from the strange room. Hearing nothing she shrugged and swung her legs off of the bed.”

    This is the beginning of my book. Any thoughts?