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Three common pitfalls that prevent a compelling beginning

One of the pleasures of reading a new book is sinking into the world of the story. But almost nothing annoys me more than being ripped out of my dream state by having to back up and re-read the beginning of a story to figure out what is going on.

I experienced this recently and in my quest to be a better writer, I decided to analyze a few stories to figure out what was pulling me out of the story world. Here’s what I discovered:

The author introduces too many characters at once. Readers have a hard time keeping the characters straight and knowing their roles in the story because they haven’t had a chance to get to know them yet.

Too much backstory in the beginning. Refrain from a recitation of the protagonist’s or other characters’ life histories or other information leading up to where the actual “story” really begins. Instead, use a minimum of backstory and description — only what’s needed to help readers immerse themselves in the story and the opening scene.

Excessive description of setting and characters. It’s best to reveal characters by showing who they are through their actions and dialogue. Ground readers in your story with a brief description of setting early on but make sure all the details exist for a reason.

To avoid these pitfalls, begin your story with a scene that introduces an inciting incident that’s central to the trouble or mystery at the heart of the story. Once you’ve set the stage, sit back and write it out.

For more insight into creating compelling beginnings, read author Les Edgerton’s book, Hooked, one of my favorite guides about grabbing readers from the first page.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you so much for the shout-out and nice things you said about my little blue book. I appreciate them immensely! If you get a chance, please visit my blog at

    Blue skies,
    Les Edgerton

    November 22, 2011
    • My pleasure! I’ve recommended “Hooked” many times. Thanks for your comment and I’m looking forward to reading your blog.

      November 22, 2011

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