How to Start Your Story

Story beginnings are hard. I often make a common mistake with my stories – starting them too early. What this means is that I include too much backstory upfront. Sometimes it’s information I need to know about the characters and their situation, but it’s not something the reader needs to know.

A story needs to start with some kind of conflict or hook. If you think the start of your story could be a little slow, try beginning it later. Perhaps chapter two, or three or even four might be a better place to start.

No matter what the length of your story, the beginning or opening is what encourages your reader to keep reading and involves them in the characters and what is happening to them.

There are many things that a story beginning has to achieve:

  • Attract reader attention
  • Keep reader attention
  • Establish time and place in which the action is happening
  • Introduce the main character
  • Give some clues as to what the stories is about. Letters to Leonardo opens with a letter from the main character, Matt, to Leonardo da Vinci. This is an indication to the reader that letters, art and Leonardo da Vinci are probably important to the story.
  • Give reader an idea of what kind of story it is. For example, if you are writing a psychological thriller, a funny slapstick beginning will attract the wrong type of reader. The reader will soon realise this is NOT a funny story, and they will lose interest.

Early on in Letters to Leonardo, I wanted to establish the fact that Matt does not come from an ‘average’ family background. I thought this would help build up suspense and curiosity for the reader – the feeling that something unexpected might happen.

In his second letter to Leonardo da Vinci, Matt says, “I don’t do furry pets and family holidays – probably comes from growing up without a mum. Tomorrow’s my birthday. I guess I could tell you about that.”

As well as giving hints about Matt’s family background, this piece foreshadows to the reader that something unexpected could be about to happen.

The beginning must arouse the reader’s interest – give them something to keep reading. In Letters to Leonardo, it’s Matt’s first letter. But your beginning can be in any format. It can be scary, funny, shocking, bizarre, too ordinary – or whatever sort of beginning you choose – just as long as it hooks the reader and is in keeping with the rest of the story.

If you introduce your main character immediately and get straight into the action, you can’t go far wrong.

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