Writing Wednesdays: Different ways to start your book

September 21, 2016
Starting to write a novel is difficult enough, but how do you know HOW to start it? I share a few ideas in this post.

When you start writing a book it can be a really daunting moment. Whether it’s your first book or not. And I get asked fairly frequently: ‘How am I supposed to start my novel?’

Here’s my short answer: you can start your book in whichever way you want.

I remember hearing conflicting advice at school when I was younger. Don’t start your book with speech or a description or with the word ‘and’ or with action or with pathetic fallacy or the word ‘like’… I mean, what’s left after that?

You can start your book however you want. As I’ve said often in Writing Wednesdays posts: there are no real rules when it comes to writing.

If you start your story with speech and it’s no good, maybe that’s because of the way you’ve written it. Maybe you just need to reword your opening sentence for more impact. But the fact that it’s speech doesn’t automatically make it a bad opening. Does that make sense?

You might also like this post on how to write a good first line.

Since this is something I get asked about a lot, the rest of the post is going to be more giving you ideas on how to start your book than talking about what you should or shouldn’t do, because I thought that would be more helpful. 

If you’d prefer advice on how to write a good opening line to your novel, I’d recommend you check out this Writing Wednesdays post instead.

Prologues: I only tend to use these when I’m writing historical fiction or fantasy, but you can make them work pretty much anywhere, I guess. Whether it’s a snippet of something that will happen later in the book, or something that happened in the past to your main characters or has an impact on them somehow, prologues can be a really useful tool.

Action: Whether it’s something like, ‘The explosion tore through the building’, or an –ing word, starting your book with action can throw your readers straight into the story before they’ve even met your characters. That’s not always a bad thing.

Speech: Actually, this can be a great way of introducing your characters, or part of your main storyline. It all depends on what you want to be said, but again, I want to reiterate that starting your book with speech and dialogue is completely allowed. The only thing I would say is to exercise caution: break the dialogue up with some actions, some description on the setting, maybe throw a name in there. If your whole first page is eighteen lines of dialogue thrown back and forth with nothing else, it might confuse your readers and not engage them properly. But hey, it’s totally up to you.

You might also like this guest Writing Wednesday post by Non Pratt for some awesome advice on writing dialogue.

Pathetic fallacy: Again, nobody is going to stop you doing this! It’s definitely a great way of setting the scene. That’s why you see it so many times in books. It’s great for setting the tone as well as allowing you to set the scene and maybe introduce your characters.

Description: Again with setting the scene. (I’m pretty sure most opening lines in books are there to either set the scene/tone or introduce the characters.) I don’t think it matters if you set your story in the woods or a dystopian post-apocalyptic world or your average high school. If it feels like it works, then go for it. Whether you’re describing the setting or your character’s appearance.

You might also like this post for advice on setting the scene.

If you’re after more ideas, or maybe want more specific examples, I recommend you check out some books. Pick up books you own, or go to the library or the bookstore and just take a look at the first page of some of them. Particularly check out books in the genre you’re writing, but don’t discount books outside of your genre.

You might also like this post on why it’s important to read if you want to be a writer.

Ultimately, you’ve gotta do what feel right. Your writing is extremely personal and while you can appreciate the need for an editor and the input they’ll give you, nobody can write your book for you.*

(*I mean, unless you hire a ghost writer. But outside of celebrities who aren’t authors, this hardly ever happens. And I don’t mean co-authoring a book, because that involves both of you writing and both of you creating.)

Anyway. Nobody can write your book for you. Nobody is going to tell you how to start your book. Maybe you have to try a couple of different things before you find one that works for you, but try them! See what works! See what you like! Each story and each writer are different, after all.

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