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How to write the beginning/opening of a story?
#1
I’m currently invested in writing some short stories for the forum, but I’m currently stump on how to start the beginning. Should I have my character wake up in the middle of the day? Have something blow up, so we dipped right into the action?

I figured I asked my peers on the best way to start off your beginning. How did you write your beginning/opening? What pitfalls do you advise to avoid when writing one? Is starting off your story with the character waking up from a dream simply bad no matter the execution?
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#2
Personally, there's not really a "right" OR "wrong" way to start out a story because it depends on genre, POV, whether or not you want to narrate different characters in the beginning before you unify them, etc. You can basically open it however you want so long as you ensure it gives off a good first impression for the reader. But sometimes the first paragraph is harder than starting off writing the 2nd or 3rd and then going back to fill in the first paragraph based on the other parts you wrote first.

Now, a good first impression generally needs to accomplish...
1. Atmosphere and overall mood for where you begin the story. Without being overly detailed, you should be able to describe a specific setting that implies the mood you're going for. The way you describe the setting here is very crucial, so it's the one time you must be thorough. Every instance you refer to the same setting after that needn't be that detailed in comparison because most likely, your reader has the image of the same place concrete in their mind.

2. Avoid dumping info on the reader, and just trim the fat where it's necessary. You can always expand on concepts you introduce early on, if you decide to prime the readers with those things off the bat.

3. Make sure it's got a hook to grab the reader... maybe not right in the first chapter's very first paragraph, because that can lead you to pigeonhole yourself into it without proper pacing. It needn't be the actual plot, but maybe have an event occur to grab the reader's curiosity like it should with the MC.

4. If there is something in your setting that is abnormal or just very odd, please provide your readers with proper context. We needn't get an entire prologue dedicated to said event or thing, but a little info that won't leave readers confused when seeing later references to said thing be expanded upon is sufficient.

The only real pitfalls to starting is figuring out how to make it sell your plot/character in an interesting way without resorting to too many cliches. And honestly, the only real remedy for that is just reading your draft over and over a couple times before posting it. Otherwise you're gonna end up like me with 7 chapters and not enough fucks given to revise the first chapter a third time because the 5th and 6th might need more attention and fixing compared to a tropey first paragraph. At least at the moment.


The only real openings that don't work at all are the kinds where rather extreme situations happen, like killing off someone right off the bat. There's really no point doing this because you didn't give the reader any time to feel attachment to said character or any orbital side cast members. In most instances, this is not necessary and probably puts off your reader more than draws them in. Generally, I'd also avoid opening a story with things that would normally evoke a response of empathy from the reader like abuse, background of extreme misfortune, etc. These themes are not only upsetting, but very serious matters, and you need to give them the respect and attention they deserve when exploring these subject matters in your story. Going off an abuse subplot as an example, it is best you introduce the character being abused first as simply a normal person, without any overt indication they are being abused, because generally speaking, they have been trained to hide the signs out of fear that attracting such attention will evoke their abuser's wrath and punish them accordingly. After you give the reader time to become attached, then you can reveal the darker aspects of their personal life and get the reader fired up into figuring out ways to help the victim along with the main character (usually victims of abuse need outside help to escape the abusive relationship).

Oh, and if you use sexual abuse as the plot for anything that isn't basically Speak the book, I will personally come to your house and suplex you into the nearest manhole I find.
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#3
Loopy gave some pretty good advice so I'll chip in with my own thing.

Ideally, you'll want to start off a story with giving the reader a taste of what this story is about. Unless misdirection is a direct part of the story, the opening part of the story will be about what you want to focus on. That the first part of the story is what draws readers in. The opening doesn't even have to be very good, it just has to be interesting and showcase what the story will be about. The plot doesn't even have to kick off in the opening, so long as it's not disjointed from the rest of the narrative. As long as it draws readers in, a poor opening can be forgiven as the story finds it's way to establish itself further in. A lot of fiction, especially experimental for the author, tends to have a troubled or weird first installment or chapter, and really get good as it gets further in.
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#4
Nothing wrong with making your character wake up in the middle of the day if you know how to catch the reader's attention with that. Maybe a phone call wakes your character up, or the sound of their cat snoring - or the sound of something in the kitchen that doesn't sound familiar to them. That way there's a door open for the next course of action. 

I find some of the better beginnings in most stories I read about tend to connect the main character to another character that will be pivotal to the plot progression later on. Like Darren Shan with Mr Crepsley and Valkyrie with Skulduggery Pleasant, Katniss with Petra (Petr?? idk), Harry Potter with Hagrid, who will eventually lead him to Ron, Hermoine, Dumbledore... you get the picture. It's something I see a lot in multiple genres. A character doesn't have to be DIRECTLY important, but someone important enough to ensure the plot progresses. That's my opinion at least. 

I agree with Grey here that the beginning doesn't HAVE to be epic for the reader to stick around, just give it enough juicy meat (or fruit, if the reader's vegan) for the reader to keep going with the story. BUT you also don't want it to be so bad that the reader's put off by the entire story either.
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#5
Interesting insights. I started my story by dropping the readers into a battle, whereas a man is currently rampaging through a fortress run by red-demon creatures. That way, the readers understand that, A) this is a fantasy world of some sort and B) there’s a man causing a bit of a ruckus. This encourage the readers of the first look of the world, I think. I’m still just a beginner, so it’s a learning process.

I didn’t want to bore the reader with uninteresting openings, nor do I want to spent time with expositions, rather than opting for the show, but don’t tell route.
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#6
I agree with what everyone says in this situation. Here are some of my thoughts!

If you are going to try to hook the reader in, start with something that you want your character to be associated with, like a type of quirk or personality trope. It doesn't have to be immediate, but something that your readers can relate to. Try keeping characters realistic in terms of the story. What I mean by this is to keep your character's actions and consequences in accordance with your story.

For example, if your story takes place in a Medieval Era, your character should be aware of the consequences of stealing from the king. During those times, I believe that was punishable by death, however, this doesn't have to be 100% true for your story. Depending on how you apply this, you can make it work by either having your character have special connections to the monastery or is secretly friends with the prince or something. If this is not the case and your character is a nobody from the start, you can add interesting characteristics that can give your character an upper hand in Era. Use the beginning of your story to clarify these quirks and establish them as you start on your adventure.

Give the reader an idea of the goals your character wishes to obtain. Some readers stay hooked in if the OC has an interesting or difficult goal to get. This will encourage the reader to keep on reading to see if they accomplish it. 

Lastly, try to keep things simple in the beginning. No one likes to remember vital pieces of information at the very beginning of the story. There is no need to go hyper-detail explaining how your OC eats a sandwich or how the sun shines through a window. Try to see if you can summarize everything in a paragraph or less. One thing I fell victim to was over detailing my story. I learned that most novice writers tend to overexplain even the simplest of actions.

Remember this: Just because you put a lot of details and vocabulary in explaining how your character walks doesn't mean you are a good writer. Your character is still walking at the end of the day, all you did was add pretty words to it.
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#7
Yeah, that's an interesting take on opening by detailing their motivations and goals. Does it have to be straightforward with their goals, or you can hint at it, unless it really depends on the type of story you are doing?

Like for example, I had Carnage Hero stated that he wishes to save the Princess to get his reward at the end of the chapter. Is that a good way to kick start the reader's interest?
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#8
(09-19-2019, 11:53 AM)ShineCero Wrote: Yeah, that's an interesting take on opening by detailing their motivations and goals. Does it have to be straightforward with their goals, or you can hint at it, unless it really depends on the type of story you are doing?

Like for example, I had Carnage Hero stated that he wishes to save the Princess to get his reward at the end of the chapter. Is that a good way to kick start the reader's interest?

Depending on the story, the protagonist can either have no goals, predetermined goals, or change goals at the start. For example, the opening of a story can have an individual in their day to day life, and then the start of conflict pulls them out of their day to day life and forces them into a new trajectory. Or, a story can start with the conflict established before the opening and the exposition can explain that conflict, the protagonist already knowing where they need to go and what they need to do. Lastly a story can have a protagonist start out with predetermined goals, only to change those at the start of conflict.

If the story hook is interesting and the opening chapter provides a taste of what the reader can expect from the story, and the reader likes it, then it is a good way to grab the reader's interest.
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#9
(09-19-2019, 03:00 PM)Grey Star Wrote:
(09-19-2019, 11:53 AM)ShineCero Wrote: Yeah, that's an interesting take on opening by detailing their motivations and goals. Does it have to be straightforward with their goals, or you can hint at it, unless it really depends on the type of story you are doing?

Like for example, I had Carnage Hero stated that he wishes to save the Princess to get his reward at the end of the chapter. Is that a good way to kick start the reader's interest?

Depending on the story, the protagonist can either have no goals, predetermined goals, or change goals at the start. For example, the opening of a story can have an individual in their day to day life, and then the start of conflict pulls them out of their day to day life and forces them into a new trajectory. Or, a story can start with the conflict established before the opening and the exposition can explain that conflict, the protagonist already knowing where they need to go and what they need to do. Lastly a story can have a protagonist start out with predetermined goals, only to change those at the start of conflict.

If the story hook is interesting and the opening chapter provides a taste of what the reader can expect from the story, and the reader likes it, then it is a good way to grab the reader's interest.

Interesting, so it's more about the execution of how you present their goals, rather than the why?

Like for example,

A weak man awoken from his drunken night, nearly falling off from the bed. He rubbed his head, didn't bother to check the time, taking a peek out the window. He soon realized that the outside world is completely engulfed in flames, destruction and chaos. Whatever awful state he was in, instantly disappeared upon realization of what he had seen.

Short paragraph, of course, but this could a good opening hook for the readers? Thinking
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#10
(09-23-2019, 08:02 PM)ShineCero Wrote:
(09-19-2019, 03:00 PM)Grey Star Wrote:
(09-19-2019, 11:53 AM)ShineCero Wrote: Yeah, that's an interesting take on opening by detailing their motivations and goals. Does it have to be straightforward with their goals, or you can hint at it, unless it really depends on the type of story you are doing?

Like for example, I had Carnage Hero stated that he wishes to save the Princess to get his reward at the end of the chapter. Is that a good way to kick start the reader's interest?

Depending on the story, the protagonist can either have no goals, predetermined goals, or change goals at the start. For example, the opening of a story can have an individual in their day to day life, and then the start of conflict pulls them out of their day to day life and forces them into a new trajectory. Or, a story can start with the conflict established before the opening and the exposition can explain that conflict, the protagonist already knowing where they need to go and what they need to do. Lastly a story can have a protagonist start out with predetermined goals, only to change those at the start of conflict.

If the story hook is interesting and the opening chapter provides a taste of what the reader can expect from the story, and the reader likes it, then it is a good way to grab the reader's interest.

Interesting, so it's more about the execution of how you present their goals, rather than the why?

Like for example,

A weak man awoken from his drunken night, nearly falling off from the bed. He rubbed his head, didn't bother to check the time, taking a peek out the window. He soon realized that the outside world is completely engulfed in flames, destruction and chaos. Whatever awful state he was in, instantly disappeared upon realization of what he had seen.

Short paragraph, of course, but this could a good opening hook for the readers? Thinking

The execution of the presentation of goals is important, though perhaps not as important as the goals themselves. Presenting a protagonist's goals in a dull, boring manner is going to be as painful as the protagonist having dull, boring goals. I would personally say that boring goals are going to be more of a detriment than boring execution of the goals, but they're both really important. Depending on personal tastes and story specifics, one can make an argument for whether one or the other would be worse.

A boring goal presented well can keep an audience interested. An interesting goal presented poorly can make an audience uninterested. On the other hand, a boring goal presented well can make an audience drop the story early on the basis the writing may be good, but the story is too mundane. An interesting goal can carry a story beyond the opening, even if said opening is basically a long stumble.

As for the opening hook. It is possible to start out a story immediately with the protagonist's goals, but outside of shorter fiction is this done too much. The general core of a story is that a protagonist changes themselves or the world around them from how things were at the beginning up until the end. Opening with the goal of a protagonist is problematic since it skips over establishing the protagonist and their world, instead immediately getting to the story proper. The problem lies within the fact that the audience has no time to compare the protagonist from before the got their goal to after, meaning that when they do achieve their goal it may feel like things have not changed much. If the change in a protagonist or their world isn't the focus of the story, then this is fine. If the story is more symbolic or poetic than change may not even factor into it. It is possible to start out with the protagonist's goal as the opening of the story and never directly show them before they acquired this goal, it can be done, but the general requirement is to paint how the protagonist is now and what they were like before the story opened up, which effectively serves the same purpose as showing the protagonist before they acquired their goal.

In your specific example, the reader's attention is immediately hooked by the destruction of the established world for this character. Its interesting, but the problem is that there's no build up to it, nor any understanding of what the protagonist or the world was like before everything was on fire. By getting into the goal immediately, the goal is set as the status quo, rather than something that either changes the status quo, or threatens the status quo. You could make it work, but it depends on the story you want to tell. It will be an effective opening hook, yes, but it may affect the rest of the story is an unforeseen manner. As a result of the goal being the status quo, the pay off of achieving or failing that goal may feel hollow as there wouldn't be something to compare the outcome of the goal to other than the goal itself. The protagonist may survive the fire, but the only comparison the reader will have to them surviving the fire is them being in the fire, which may make their survival feel normative, rather than conclusive.

Non-fiction can be so boring to some individuals, as it mostly drones on about mundane details of zero interest to the reader and doesn't discuss change or interesting information. Most of the real life stories I was given as a kid were boring to me because of both their mundane nature, and how often nothing changed between the start of the story and the end. Sure, things changed, but not within the story.
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