When writing a novel, some people have trouble with how to begin. Where should the story start? How much action? How much dialogue? Should I include backstory? Sound familiar?
If this is you, there’s help in the form of a book by Nancy Kress called Beginnings, Middles, and Ends.
I personally struggle with beginnings, so I thought I would take a look and try to learn a thing or two.
Some obvious points: You want to make sure you have an engaging character. You also want to make sure your story has conflict.
But if you’ve gotten that far, what could possibly be missing?
- It’s all in the details. And not just any details. Very specific details. “Details set your opening apart from the hundreds of others similar to it,” says Kress. Here’s her example. Don’t just say Mary loves dogs. Show how she feeds her eighty-pound Lab all the best leftovers every night.
- Create credible prose. Meaning, learn how to use the English language in a way that is accurate, interesting, and easily understood. For example, consider varied sentence structure. Short sentences pick up the pace and add drama, while longer sentences slow things down and add tension.
- A note on character: make sure he or she is unique enough to be picked out of a crowd. Ask yourself, “Would nine out of ten people behave and think like this?” The answer should be no, otherwise you haven’t conveyed your character to readers in a compelling enough way. You need to share more and perhaps dig a little deeper into what makes your character unique.
Add these elements with others and you’ll be on your way to having a successful opening scene! But what next? Kress suggests toning down the level of conflict in scene two. You can do this with backstory or flashbacks, but be careful they don’t slow the story down too much. The key is balance. You can certainly continue on with more action, but if you’re going to do that, the challenge is to reduce the level of conflict in relation to the opening scene. Or you could consider introducing conflict in the form of a subplot, but again, make sure it’s not quite as intense as the opening. It’s all about pacing.
There’s also advice for trouble with murky middles and how to wrap up the ending of your story in a satisfying way. But we’ll save those tips for another day… Or better yet, go check out this book!
In the meantime, get started on your story. Will it be Once upon a time…or perhaps something more unique? I think you know the answer! 😉