An argument can be made that the beginning of any story is the most important. It is the first part your readers will encounter and it is what potential agents and publishers will read in order to determine if your project is right for them. But do you know how to start a story? What's the perfect opening?
The beginning needs to impress your audience. It needs to be near perfect. How can you do that?
5 Essential Elements for How to Start a Story
Though you need to consider every aspect of your story, especially at the beginning, there are five specific things you can watch out for to really make your manuscript shine. Wondering how to start a story? Try these five strategies:
1. Craft that first line
This isn’t something you need to worry about in a first draft, but when you revise, you should pay attention to your first sentence. Make it sing. First impressions are everything.
2. Nix the prologue
Ah, yes, the endless prologue debate. Many authors, agents, and readers alike will give you different advice. Some say prologues don’t bother them and others will say with vehemence that prologues are the worst thing you could do for your story.
The safest thing you can do is not include it at all.
In most cases, the information you include in a prologue can fit in somewhere else as a flashback or an extra chapter. You won’t lose anything by not writing a prologue.
3. Begin your story “in medias res”
If you start your first chapter “in medias res,” or “in the middle of things,” your book will bypass all kinds of pesky backstory and focus on what’s most important. Throw your protagonist straight into the inciting incident. Intrigue and action are key to an interesting beginning.
4. Resist the urge to over explain
I’m guilty of this myself. I naturally want to lay out everything for my reader, describing each and every detail of the rules of my world and my characters before my story has even begun.
This is a surefire way to alienate potential fans. Readers don’t enjoy feeling like someone is teaching them a lesson when they’re just expecting a good story.
Remember that it’s okay to tease a little. Sprinkle information throughout your book instead of dumping it all at the reader’s feet from page one.
5. End the first chapter on a cliffhanger
It’s best if you can do this with every chapter, but the first one is especially important. First chapters are where people either give up on a book or decide to keep going. If you provide a shocking revelation or nail-biting moment, readers will have no choice to but continue with your story to find answers.
A trick some authors use is ending on a cliffhanger and then beginning the next chapter with something completely different so the tension isn’t resolved right away. See what works best for you, but remember to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.
Hook Your Readers
If you’re able to master the art of creating a perfect start to your story, the rest of the editing process will be much easier. Once you’ve hooked a reader, all you have to do is keep reeling them in, so make sure that hook is good and sharp.
Do you have more tips for how to start a story? How do you approach the start of your stories? Let us know in the comments.
Start a new story (this can be a first chapter or simply the beginning to a short story) using all of the tips above. Write for fifteen minutes, and then end your section on a cliffhanger.
After you’ve finished, share your work in the comments, if you’d like. Remember to give your fellow writers some feedback, too. Have fun!
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).