I talked about endings a previous week because you have to know where you’re going before you can begin your journey. The start of a story is one of your biggest selling points. It contains the promises for the rest of the story and sets the scene. Most of this advice is for outline writers who like to preplan things. Writers who discover the plot as they go have more trouble with their endings.
The First Scene
So once you have your general outline, which scene do you actually start with? You have character backgrounds and setting descriptions, but you don’t want to start too slowly. The phrase “In late and out early” rings in your ears. It needs to hook your readers so that they will want to continue. But you still have to introduce the characters and show what kind of world you are dealing with. Otherwise, things will get confusing.
Beginning a story is a fine balance of many things. In the end, the best way to know where to start is to write it out. If things feel like they are moving too quickly, write the scene before. If it is too slow, skip a few scenes and write what comes next. In the end, you will know it once you see it. It will feel right to you. And if you doubt your judgment, get a few beta readers (but make sure you doubt their assessments as well).
Most writers will throw out their first few chapters. They call them the warm-up scenes and they set the mood for the writer more than the reader. You will have to go in and rewrite your new starts to explain the necessary information, but that is why you have rough drafts. Don’t be afraid and plan everything out in your mind first, just write it. You’ll know more about where you stand once you do.
The First Written Word
This is also good advice for people trying to figure out when to stop outlining and start writing. These people want everything to make sense and fit together first. But for a perfectionist, that time will take years. J. J. R. Tolkien is one such writer who preplanned everything. His writing was brilliant once written, but he only really got four fantasy books out before dying. We would have liked more than that.
It is okay to only outline big plot lines. You may discover smaller character and plot twists later on, and you add those into your outline. Things don’t have to be perfect before you start writing. One piece of advice is to start writing once your characters are real enough to have a unique voice in your head. Don’t wait to flush out their story. Once you know their entire story, their voices will fade from your mind. You want the story to be exciting for you to write as well as for the reader.
The First End
Another way to start your story is to write the end first. Know where you want to go and what the big reveal and conflicts are going to be about. Then work backwards in your mind. Find a scene that promises that last conflict without revealing too much yet. It is okay to write things wrong the first time.
And if you aren’t sure if you are even a discovery or outline writer, try both. Write a story after planning the large plot lines. Then write a story without any preparation at all and change it as you go. You may find you are a mix of both depending on the different scenes or genres.
In the end, you have to practice and write it to know where to begin.
Photo by Braden Collum