Writing Tips: Five Things to Establish at the Beginning of a Story

Hi all!

Here’s another writing tips article for your perusal.

Happy Writing!

Leandra and Gwen

Five Things to Establish at the Beginning of a Story

The beginning of your story is often your best chance to draw readers into your work (as anyone who has skimmed the first chapter of a book at the bookstore knows).  However, there’s more to a good opening than pretty writing. Here are five things you want to show (not tell) your reader with the beginning of your work.

 

  • Tone:  It’s very important to set your tone right away.  Though tones may fluctuate between scenes (especially in novels and other long works), your beginning scene should have the same tone as the major tone for the work.  If you opening scene does not follow this rule, considering rearranging the scene order so that it does.
  • World:  You want to establish your setting right away; most people do not struggle with this.  However, this is where most authors start to info-dump. To avoid this, try and keep the description about where the characters are without panning out to your world as a whole.  Choose a setting for your opening scene that represents your world well, and allow the particulars about the other places in your world to be explored as they are encountered.
  • Characters: You want to establish two things about characters with your opening scene: who the main character(s) are and what they are like.  Try to avoid opening with a scene that does not feature at least one of your main characters and allow them to have a character defining moment.  Also, as characters are complex and can’t be summed up in one scene, think ahead about what you want to showcase for your readers.
  • Action:  Obviously, you want something to be happening in your opening scene.  Give your characters something to do with some reason behind it. Though it probably won’t be the start of your main plot (at least, for a longer work), it should be something along the same vein.  For example, if you are writing a plot about a revolution, your opening scene quest may showcase the characters riling under an unjust government. If your plot will be pushed forward by intrigue, showcase an assassination, not a battle, in your opening scene.
  • Attraction:  Why do we care?  If you establish nothing else, you must give the reader a reason to care about events throughout the book with your opening.  This should be helped by the items above: if you skillfully showcase an interesting world, likable characters, clever actions, and/or sympathetic motives, you can get your readers’ attention.

 

All these things should be included in an opening, but it’s not as hard as it looks.  A well-plotted story will have these things working together. Maybe you can establish your tone by describing your world and characters.  Hopefully, the actions your characters take help define them. Ideally, everything you do will be interesting to the reader. It’s all there; you just need to take the time and effort in choosing/crafting an opening scene that showcases it.

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