A to Z Challenge: Beginning

To me, beginnings are so important to stories that I devoted special attention to mine for Doorways. Before I even let most of my crits see the post-first-edits version.

After all, first impressions matter.

For some readers, a good opening chapter will make a difference between them closing the book and finishing it. So yeah. It’s pretty darn important.

On the other hand, it’s common to find people who work their butts off on the first lines and neglecting the rest of the chapter or on the first chapter and neglecting the rest of the book.

It sort of makes me think of a guy with this body:


And these legs:


See when we focus on one portion of a book too much at the expense of others, the story could (and often does) come out looking lop-sided.

Most of the places I’ve read about beginnings talk about hooking readers with the first line. About how important the first lines are and so on. Those aren’t wrong, butΒ there’s more to hooking a reader than a first line. In fact, I see an excellent first line as something of a bonus. A sweet sensation I enjoy for all of half a second before moving onto the rest of the story.

According to me, the beginnings are there to serve two purposes:

1) To introduce at least one character in a way that draws the reader to the story. If not to the character.
2) To set up the story in a way that leads the reader into the rest of the plot. That’s why personally I’m not a huge fan of opening in dream sequences or in the middle of action.

Both of these must be done in a way that moves into the second chapter without a hitch.

It’s incredibly important to draw the reader in, but the effort can’t stop at the end of the first line or even the first chapter. It stops at the end of the story.

Not a moment before that.

Look Out for These:

1) The beginning differing in tone or pacing from the rest of the story.

2) The characters are introduced, but with telling or in another way that bores or irritates the reader.

3) The opening not setting up the rest of the story plot-wise.Β If the first chapter doesn’t slot into the subsequent chapters in a way that affects the rest ofΒ the story, it’s better to start somewhere else.

How do you do your beginnings? Do you write it first and make the rest of the story fit, or do you write the story and tailor the beginning to fit?


49 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: Beginning

  1. Excellent. Somewhere a long time ago I read about editing out that first chapter entirely and starting with the second. I actually did this with my MG West Indian ghost story and it did wonders!

  2. I absolutely agree with you, Misha. Great first lines are more like a bonus. But if the rest of the first chapter doesn't hook me, then I usually close the book.
    Nice reminder, especially since so much emphasis has been placed on first lines.

  3. The juxtaposition between those two photos was hysterical! I agree – openings are so important. I rewrote mine (again) after I had the rest of the draft completed and edited.

  4. Thanks! I'm glad you liked my post.

    I'm one of those people who will bravely trudge through a bad opening. Very rarely do I put a book down. Still, I know, because I have a reader like that in my family.

  5. Hahaha no I'd never do that to someone I knew. I got the picture from flickr in the creative commons, so I assume that the photographer (it's his legs) wouldn't mind. πŸ˜‰

  6. Hehehehe I thought so too when I put them up.

    I also did my first chapter after I finished rewriting and after a lot of editing.

    My original first chapter is now the second. πŸ˜€

  7. Great post! Those tips are crucial. I try to hit a happy ground with openings. Southern stories traditionally require a longer set-up as there wasn't much to do to in the evenings but sit on the stoop and tell stories. So I'm always looking for creative ways to stick to my craft.

  8. I have to say that your pictorial comparison is just too priceless. And I agree that beginnings are very important for the hook but if the reader is bored after the first chapter, they'll be a mouth-piece telling others about the book and wouldn't want that happening.

    When it comes to beginnings, I've stopped trying to get the first chapter absolutely perfect for that first draft. I try to dump that first one out of me and go back to rework things. That can give me a chance to find where scenes can be moved to work better and provide me with a chance to locate that strong beginning…which often isn't the first paragraph originally written.

  9. Great post. I spent five years writing my first book, The Guardian's Wildchild. Then edited for another three years. When it was ready for the publisher, I reworked the first chapter, especially the very first line. By then I had more experience in grabbing a reader's attention. My intention was to make every reader my prisoner throughout every chapter.

  10. I haven't advanced far enough in my writing to have a preference either way, but you are so right. Beginnings are crucial, but not at the expense of the rest of the book!

  11. I try not to worry about the overall hook sentence. Not to say that I don't do my best to engage the reader from the get-go, but you're right, I don't want to end up with a lop-sided story. I try and bring in the character/s and interest the reader from there.

  12. This makes me think of when I start revising my list of blog posts working backwards and never make it to the end, so sometimes I start with the oldest posts and work forward just so I don't get lopsided.

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