Tips for Beginning Your Novel or Short Story
Many people have asked me over the years about how to start a novel or short story. These inquiries
range from "How do I start my book?" to "I'm writing a science fiction novel and have a wonderful plot
but I don't like my beginning, what should I do?" to the eternal, "UHHHH???? HELP????"
I compiled a list of suggestions for my friend when he asked me about this, and wanted to share them
here with all of you for future reference. These are simply tips and things to consider, so pick and
choose as you will. Good luck!
**A good beginning and ending are equally important. One will make someone read your story/book
and one will make them remember it. Because of that, most stories have "bookends." Bookends can be
a similar theme, or even a recurring word or phrase. What we learned at the beginning can be echoed
at the end. If you plan to end your story with your hero having to reluctantly shoot a child because it
has been possessed by a murderous spirit (as I did in a short sci-fi story for an anthology), we need to
start off seeing that the hero doesn't want to shoot anyone. Or that he does, whatever. Your ending will
have a bigger impact if the beginning somehow echoes to it.
**A first sentence/scene should be something you can reasonably remember and describe to someone
else, if possible. Think of your favorite opening scenes from books and movies. I bet you can remember
them and explain them pretty easily. "Dude, this guy is in the desert in just his underwear and he's got
dead guys in his meth-lab van!" for instance. It can be a funny memorable ending, a scary memorable
opening, whatever. But it should be something you can explain somewhat easily. Check out these great
book beginnings: Fight Club, Neverwhere
**Sex and violence only mean something to us when we know who is experiencing the sex and violence,
which is why they're not generally a good place to start unless for humorous reasons. Starting a book
with, "Josie slathered Alex's torso in red jam and was licking it from his belly button at approximately the
same moment Alex realized he'd slept with nine women in the last three days and, though it would be
hard to admit to his mates, he was dead sick of it," is humorous, and we already wonder why Alex has
slept with so many women. This rule can be broken in creative ways, though, and in fact, it's a great
one to break. Just don't expect us to feel romantic about someone we haven't met yet if you open on
two people having sex. And don't expect us to feel sorry for a murder victim if we don't know them yet.
**Think in terms of tone and pacing. If you're going to have very little dialogue in your project, you
might not want to start with dialogue. If you're going to have a slow, intense story, you will want to start
off that way. If you're going to have a story full of sarcastic asides, you'll want to start that way. People
want to know that when they start reading Bridget Jones' Diary, it's not going to go all Game of Thrones
halfway through. (Unless the plucky heroine is transported directly to a castle full of swarthy, desperate
heroes who are looking for some action. Robb Stark makes almost anything acceptable+)
+This is my personal opinion, of course, but if you don't agree, I suggest you go look at a picture of
Richard Madden holding a direwolf puppy for a moment and the reassess.