Find the right start to your story
A teacher once told me that you’ll find two types of beginnings when it comes to writing anything, whether it’s a poem, memoir, short story or nonfiction piece.
- The place where the writer begins writing.
- The place where the story actually begins.
If you feel as though you’re beginning isn’t quite right, consider whether you’re starting in the right place.
Start with a punch. Well not literally, although it depends on the story, but think about how you can grab the readers’ attention in your first few pages. Consider how you can raise a question in the readers’ minds that must be answered (then be sure to answer it).
Read through the first page and see if you’ve “buried the lede.” This is journalism speak for placing the real beginning of your story further into the story than it should be. Sometimes I’ve found I was warming up to my story, feeling my way into it. This can be true of a news article, feature story, and even a poem. If you feel your beginning isn’t as strong as it could be, check to see if you’ve done this, then revise and reorder.
Begin in the middle of the action. We’ve all heard this before, but it pays to think about it every time you write something, because it’s not always our first instinct. Beginnings need less backstory than you might think. For more ideas about how to hook readers from the beginning, check out Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Goby Les Edgerton.
Ultimately, you want to compel the reader to ask, “What happens next?” and then continue reading to find out.
Exercise: Pull several books off your bookshelves and read the beginnings for a sense of how the authors began their poems, memoirs, and novels. Or check out this webpage that features Best First Lines of Novels.