A problem many struggle with when beginning a new narrative is pinpointing where it begins. In a story of a nerd becoming the quarterback of the football team, does it start with him in algebra or scoring the winning goal? The beginning of your story is essential in grabbing your reader’s attention. Starting your story as late as possible is key in making the very first line enticing enough to hook them through the progression.
What does starting a story late mean? It means finding the first bit of action to throw your reader into. If a novel opens with long-winded descriptions of the setting, it’s likely many will put the book down before the plot is even touched. Introducing action immediately develops excitement and strengthens the appeal of your piece. This hook is your beginning.
How do we find the “beginning?” The answer will always vary with each story. A good way of determining this answer is trying to find the first scene in your plot’s timeline that the remainder of your story cannot exist without coherently. For instance, with a novel about a young girl maturing through high school, it’d be impossible to trace her growth without seeing some sign of her original immaturity.
After you have a strong grasp of what moments are essential to developing the foundation, the next steps are to pinpoint the action present within them. This step can be rather difficult because writers will often get caught up in prioritizing the context over the piece’s interest value.
An excellent method of finding examples for inspiration is picking up a random movie or novel and seeing if the opening pages/scenes hold your interest. If it does, it’s likely that these sources have started their story late and immediately threw their viewers into the world. Comparing different potential starting points will allow you to grasp how that scene/chapter successfully or unsuccessfully establishes intrigue.
If you find yourself struggling or contemplating whether a scene successfully introduces your narrative, a possible test for answering this is to create multiple drafts that all originate at different points. By comparing different methods for establishing your world, it’s exceedingly less demanding to determine which is most effective.
In all honesty, there are sometimes multiple potential starts to a story. If you were to write an autobiography about yourself, where would it begin? The answer most likely is quite difficult to answer because of how much composes your life. The same can be said in regards to your characters and the lives you create for them.
While the idea of multiple right answers might be intimidating, it is something that should also inspire excitement. If you’re writing a draft of a story/novel that keeps getting held up on one point, trying a different opening scene can potentially inspire new ideas and give traction to your piece, even if the attempted draft is unsuccessful.
Keeping in mind the various potential opportunities for your work, it’s important to always ask yourself three questions when starting a story: “Could narrative begin somewhere else?”, “Am I starting too early in the plot?”, and most importantly “Is there action in the opening?”
About the Author: Brandon Lovinger is a student at the University of South Florida studying English with a concentration in Creative Writing. He holds a passion for screenplay writing and hopes to have one produced soon.