Writing the opening of your novel is like naming your child – it seems like it should be easier than it is.
Do you start with an explosion, character backstory or description of the setting?
You don’t want to bore the reader to death but you also want to lay the necessary groundwork to avoid confusion.
The Single Best Way To Start Any Novel
In my personal opinion, the first job of any communication is to get attention. Therefore, however you start your novel, It should instantly grab the attention of the reader. The opening of your novel should be interesting.
But you probably already knew that. What is a more specific best way tostart your novel?
The single best way to start a novel depends on the novel and the specific talents of the author.
What the heck does that mean? It means that there are more than one way to start a novel.
Here is a quick checklist to help you determine what might be the single best way to start your specific novel.
Best Opening Checklist
- What is the most intriguing part of your story?
- What is the main conflict, problem or question of your story?
- What event starts your story, starts the problem or conflict, or raises the question?
- When does the conflict or problem begin in your story or when is the question raised?
- What is your biggest strength as an author? Dialogue, characterization, action scenes, suspense or what?
After running through the checklist, you should have a pretty good idea of how you should start your novel.
Of course, doing a little A/B testing never hurt anyone. That means, test out a few different types of openings. Start with action, try a character description open (Just make sure it’s incredibly interesting), maybe test out dialogue or something else.
Try a few different ones, play around and experiment and see which one clicks for you and maybe even have a few early readers give their opinions.
Some authors spend more time on their beginnings than they do on most of the rest of the novel. It’s not uncommon for a bestselling author to revise their opening pages dozens of times.
In fact, if your first draft of your opening is crap, you are in good company with the likes of Hemingway, Koontz and King.
So don’t worry if it’s not perfect at first. Give yourself a little breathing room to write the best one that you can think of at the moment while leaving things open to come back later and tinker.
Oddly enough, sometimes the best first chapter is the second chapter.
Why is that?
In early drafts, it’s common for writers to “warm-up” in the first chapter and not really hit their stride until the second.
One of the most simple and effective things to do is to consider cutting your first chapter altogether.
Or significantly minimizing it – turning five pages into one or even half a page – just starting your book in the second chapter when things are likely to have begun.
Again, let me emphasize the most important rule of beginnings is to be interesting.
You don’t have to have bombs exploding, but there probably should be a hint of something wrong, of a threat coming down the pike.
Be interesting or beware.
10 Story Beginnings That Instantly Turn Readers Off
- Long boring descriptions of setting
- Almost any backstory
- Introductions of all the characters or even one character unless it’s brilliantly interesting
- Detailed explanation of the problem of the story
- Lackluster dialogue
- Everything’s perfect
- Anything cliché, on the nose or expected
- Nothing happens
- Detailed explanation of the world, the language of the world, the magic system, really any explanation at all
- Vagueness so that the readers have no idea what’s happening or to whom
The common denominator in all 10 of these beginnings? They are boring.
Particularly the last one because you can’t be interested in something you don’t understand (at least a little).
There might be shock value in it but confusing readers right off is typically not a good long term strategy.
Suspense is one thing, complete confusion is quite another.
But you might be saying, “That one author in that one book started out that one way!”
You are absolutely correct. Maybe they got away with it. Maybe you will too.
There are few rules, if any, in writing stories. The main thing is to write a great story that keeps readers reading.
If you do that, readers won’t care how you begin because it’ll be great and so will the rest of your story.