When I was a little girl I knew that when a story began with the words ‘Once upon a time’ I was about to read a fantasy book. Something along the lines of a Disney epic. I always thought this was the best way to start a story because it was true. All stories start at a specific time and what better way to show it then to start with those words.
Having never published a book or worked on a full manuscript before, I was unsure how to start. I knew I wasn’t going to use Once Upon a Time because:
- It’s too cliché
- I put it more toward fantasy then fiction
I thought of a few ways to start the book. Start with a scene or conversation, which could work. I decided to start with a conversation for the manuscript I am writing right now. Did I love it? No, not really. But I wanted to start somewhere. Now that I am near the end of my manuscript I already wrapping my mind around editing which means going back and looking at the beginning and saying “How can I fix this?”
I researched and decided to pay attention to what not to do for the beginning of my novel. One saying that seems to float around the writing community in regards to the beginning of the novel is: “Good writing hooks the agent in” The beginning of my manuscript should hook the agent or whoever I want to read my book.
As a book reader myself, I know personally that when I read a book I want the first few lines to grab me, hold me tight and never let me go until I realize I’m at the end and there is no more to read. In writing for myself I have realized that it is not easy to hook someone, really pull them in, to wanting to read your story.
I decided to go to a few friends who are avert readers. I wanted to see what they thought when they begin a book. What made them turn away from a certain book before getting started? This is what I heard:
- Very slow writing. Not getting to the point
- Starting out strong and then it turns out it was all a dream
- Cliché openings such as once upon a time, a daydream, a fight scene
- Characters immediately described and given off as Mary Sue’s/Stan’s
- Giving backstory before the actual story begins
- A cheesy hook that’s been done before
The biggest area from the feedback above is to avoid cliché’s. Grammatical errors and awkward dialogue aside, cliché’s are the best pet peeve of most agents. As a writer you must be conscious of what is being written and what a cliché is and what isn’t. The best way to do this is to give your writing to a friend who knows their way around a good book. Someone who isn’t a reader may not know one cliché from another but a person who spends half of their day with their nose in a book will be able to give you better insight on what has been used before and how you can catapult the beginning of your writing.
Sit back, look at what you have written and think about what you want to convey to the writer. What is the best way to get the message across that this character(s) is important? Make the reader care about him/her/them right off the bat. If you can grab their interest right away then the reader will want to find out what happens to that character(s). The emotion will fly off the page and that’s what you want. You want the reader to feel sad when the character is sad, mad when the character is sad and happy when the character is happy.
If you can do this within the first few pages or the first chapter it will make your book one that the reader cannot put down.