It’s very easy to come up with an idea and decide to start writing a book, but actually sitting down and typing those first words is very difficult, especially if you want your readers to finish. Here are three tips to writing a great beginning that will ensure people read to the end.
You’ve done your research, written your character backgrounds, and put together your story outline, now it’s time to actually start crafting your work, you’re faced with a bank page and blinking cursor… and you’re stumped.
You need to hook your readers from the off, and there are a few things that you can do to get them sucked in.
1A great opening sentence
You need to grab your reader from the first word, the first line. You want to set the tone, and introduce the theme, maybe with an air of mystery, and more importantly the problem.
The problem is important because it’s the reason the book exists. It’s the motivation for your protagonist, and introducing it early helps to hook in the reader and keep them reading.
Have a look at the 100 best first lines from novels for some good examples of various styles of opening lines. Here’s a selection:
- It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
— Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
- Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.
— Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
- It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
— George Orwell, 1984
- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
- If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
— J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
- It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.
— Paul Auster, City of Glass
2Introduce the main character immediately
Your protagonist is the person your reader will want to identify with, the person that they’ll be journeying with through your story, so introduce them straight away.
Your first chapter, if not your first scene, should bring your main character into the story, allowing your reader to get to know them and start to care about their troubles.
3Tease as to what’s in store
At the end of your first chapter you should be teasing as to what’s going to happen in the rest of the book, maybe foreshadowing elements of the story. You could also leave it with an obvious mystery as the reader will naturally want to keep turning pages to find out what what happens next.
However you start your book, think about revisiting it as you progress and develop your story, to make it as relevant to the rest of the book as possible.
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