Story beginnings seem daunting because That first chapter needs to set up the story premise and setting, and hook readers at the same time. The responsibilities of that first chapter are so great, writers often paralyze themselves thinking about it. The story never gets started, or they enter a loop of endless revisions for Chapter One. Don’t get stuck there. Here are a few ways you can start your story…
1. The Inciting Incident - This is the most frequent advice you’ll get, and that’s because it tends to work. The inciting incident is that thing that catapults the main character from normal life into The Story. It’s that spaceship landing in Suzy’s back yard. It’s being served divorce papers. It’s that new kid showing up in class. Whatever it is, the event causes a chain reaction that changes the main character’s life and launches her into your story plot.
By starting at the inciting incident, you stand a better chance at hooking the reader, because hopefully they’re interested in what happens next. When the reader is curious how a character is going to react to something, you’ve got them.
2. A Typical Day - Fantasy and Science Fiction both require much more setup than Contemporary because the reader needs to become familiar with world you are presenting. The average day in a Fantasy or Sci Fi story is much more interesting than the average day of a teenager in high school, because we are already familiar with the latter. By starting with the character’s average day, you give readers a chance to acquaint themselves with the technology, terminology, setting, and time period. But don’t take too long. If you start with a typical day, be sure to get to the inciting incident by Chapter Four (sooner is probably better).
A Blend Of Both - Diving right into the action, while exciting, could also mean a disconnect from the main character. We, as readers, don’t know this person yet, and find it hard to care what happens to a stranger. Sometimes we need a scene just before the inciting incident to give us an idea about her personality or situation in life. This makes it easier to care.
HOW NOT TO WRITE THE BEGINNING
There are a few no-nos that most writers blunder into when starting out their writing journey. If you find yourself committing one of these mistakes, don’t feel bad. I’ve done each and every one of these!
1. The Dream Sequence - Chapter One begins with the main character dreaming about something, which will foreshadow later events. While this is not terrible in and of itself, it’s so overdone that it’s become cliche. Most readers will roll their eyes when they encounter it.
2. Waking Up - Another tired method of starting a story is the alarm clock. Starting with “A Typical Day” does not mean pelting us with mundane activities. Don’t tell us about how the main character brushes her teeth or eats her cereal. Tell us about things that differentiate her from other people. Maybe she likes eating cold pizza from two days ago for breakfast. That tells us something.
3. Looking in the Mirror - Often when a writer wants to convey what the character looks like, they’ll describe what she sees as she looks in the mirror. This is done a LOT. We don’t need to know precisely what she looks like all at once. Try sprinkling in the details gradually, like maybe she puts her brown hair up into a knot, or talks about how her sister “has blue eyes like me”. Or maybe she covers her freckles with makeup. But don’t do it all on the same page, because then it’s not gradual. It becomes obvious, and we don’t want the reader to get bored with descriptions.
Again, none of these things are terrible. It won’t ruin your story. However, if your goal is to make a good first impression, avoiding these overused methods is a good start.