Starting a new story can be exciting, exhilarating, scary, and daunting. And there’s all kinds of advice out there about doing it. But my advice is to never, ever worry about where you start, especially if you’re a beginning writer. Just get the engine going and write! When you edit, you may find you haven’t started in the best place, that it may be further into the story or earlier. That’s when you consider these points about where the finished piece will start.
It’s usually much better to start with more than one character, instead of one character musing, thinking, especially in bed. Unless you can show the character’s mood instead of telling the reader about it. In other words, the single character has to do something physical–throw something, for example. Or be attacked by someone or something in that bed.
Some famous writers have started a great story or novel with the weather. They’re usually men, who love to discuss the weather ad nauseam, I’ve noticed. I wouldn’t recommend this, especially in today’s world. Unless it’s clear to the reader that the weather plays a huge part in the story. Even then, I’d be more inclined to write about the main character instead.
Another ho-hum way to start is with a description of something. Anything. Person, place or thing. There’s no reference yet. The best descriptions are usually done from your characters’ points of view. Therefore, you need to introduce the character, then tell us what he or she is thinking about when looking at what you want to describe.
Background is often necessary, but it’s a lot more interesting when seeded into the story as it unfolds instead of thrown in a big lump at the reader. This is frequently called an “info dump” by critiquers. Pretty descriptive.
If I were a beginning writer, I would avoid any story that needs a prologue. Personally, I’m fine with prologues, and sometimes use them. But many agents and editors hate them. The agents and editors also often claim that readers hate them, too. I think this might be because editors and agents have seen a lot of very bad prologues. But by the time actual readers read a book, if there is a prologue, it’s been polished and most readers will like it and not object. All that said, avoid them if you can. Again, it’s usually best to take bits and pieces from the prologue and stick them into the on-going story.
As for how to start instead of how not to, here’s a good article from Writer’s Digest about that, including some great and famous first lines:
I must confess that I agonize over the beginning of a story or a novel, go back to it when I finish writing and rewrite the opening all over again. If the opening doesn’t suck the reader into the story from the first sentence, the work is doomed to oblivion.
I agonize, too, Jacqueline. That’s why I have been paying attention to advice about this and decided what I wrote here was good. That said, every story will have endless possibilities of where to start it. These ideas will hopefully help us whittle them down, but then we do have to make the decision.
Like you and Jacqueline, I’m an opening agonizer. I reread and revise mine many, many times. While I think I’ve put together some first pages filled with bread crumbs, I haven’t come up with a perfect first line yet. I’ll keep trying and maybe someday. . . .
I’m tempted to put up a few sample first lines for my next novel here on the blog and get reactions from readers. Might be interesting, and might surprise all of us. The thing is, there are no perfect first lines that will please every single reader. Something to think about. Please yourself, and those who think like you do will also be pleased.