One of the things that most blocks a writer is getting their story off to a good start.
Many times you come up with an idea, some characters, and a plot, and you are willing to write it, but you do not know where to start. The pressure to compose a good start is enormous. And it is logical that this is the case, those first sentences of your book will be the ones that hook the reader and make them buy your book or those that will drive them to put it back on the shelf and buy another.
To help you overcome that block, I’ve put together a few tips that will help you in this phase of writing :
It starts with an earthquake and works up from there
The phrase is not mine, but Samuel Goldwyn’s, who always wanted his studio films to start like this, with a big event, and continue to grow afterward, but it is a good phrase to keep in mind.
If you start your story in a nondescript way, you will not arouse the reader’s interest. If your protagonist is a gray being, with an anodyne life, and that is what you want to tell, you don’t have to make your story boring.
Right now I’m reading EM Delafield’s Diary of a Country Lady that tells exactly that, the life of a lady from a village in the English countryside in the 1930s. The book begins like this:
November 7. I plant the bulbs indoors. When I’m close to the middle, Lady Boxe appears. I say that I am delighted to see you, although it is not true, and ask you to sit down while I finish. Lady B. makes a determined attempt to sit in an armchair in which I have placed two bowls of bulbs and the bag of charcoal, but she cuts it off just in time and settles on the sofa.
Didn’t you know it’s too late for indoor bulbs? He asks me. The ideal time is September or even October. Didn’t you know that the only reliable company for hyacinths is I don’t know who’s in Haarlem? The name, in Dutch, escapes me, and I answer that I already knew it, but that I consider it my duty to buy products of the Empire. At that moment I have the feeling and still do, that it is an excellent answer. Unfortunately, after a while, Vicky comes into the living room and airs my slip with the Yankees: “Come on, Mom, aren’t those the bulbs we bought at Woolworths”.
The life of the lady from the provinces in question is very anodyne, nothing very memorable will ever happen to her, but in these few lines, the author has already told us a lot about her: her struggle to do well her role as wife, mother and A housewife in front of the community, how she resorts to hypocrisy and lies to get rid of Lady Boxe’s attacks, always ready to make mistakes out of what she does, which leads her to make a fool of herself at times. His life is anodyne, but the beginning of the book tells us that we are before the narrative of a simple life, but not without tension and problems.
Forget what they told you in school about the first act
We were all told at school that most of the stories are divided into three acts: presentation, middle, and end. Many people stayed in that simplistic definition. And consider that the first part of their story should be a presentation of the characters, the locations, etc.
It is true that in the first part of a story the protagonist is presented, his objectives, the obstacles he is going to face, the setting where the plot takes place, etc. But it does not mean that that is all that should appear in the first act. All that presentation should reach the reader through the plot, and not as separate information. And this idea leads us to the following advice:
The plot begins in the first paragraph
The action of your story begins in the first paragraph. Nothing screams “novice writer”, or rather, “bad novice writer” more than a story that begins with a physical description of the main character. It would be something like this:
Fulanito was a tall, slim, blonde woman with black eyes and was 35 years old. She liked to dress in classic and understated clothes, and she used soft tones in her makeup.
Do you know a lot of good novels that start off so boring? Me neither. Your readers don’t need to have an accurate picture of your character to start reading the story, you will have plenty of opportunities to introduce the physical characteristics of your characters throughout the narrative, in a more subtle way.
You also have to take into account the following point:
The reader forgets the details he reads before he becomes interested in the story
We have to provide the reader with the information he needs to follow the story. But be aware that he will only retain it when he feels interested. And empathy for the protagonist when he cares what happens to him.
So in the beginning, dispense with all non-essential details and save them for later. That will make the reader retain them better, and will also make the narration more agile.
Books are not written in a linear fashion
I have saved the most important advice for last: books are not written in the order they are read. If the beginning of your story doesn’t come naturally to you, start writing in the middle or at the end. It does not matter. Do what you need to write your story, the important thing is precisely that: write it.
If you want, make a few notes of what should appear in that first part, and start elsewhere. When you have more advanced the story on paper, you will see more clearly how your book should begin.