Getting off to a good start

So you’ve developed your story idea, done some outlining or story planning and now you’re ready to start writing your novel. You stare at the screen and the curser blinks back at you. You think it’s mocking you. You know that first sentence has to be brilliant prose; it has to capture the reader’s imagination and make them want to read on. You think of all those clever opening lines that famous authors have used and nothing seems to come into your head. Writer’s block? Forget it. Any sentence will do; you just need to get going. You will no doubt edit that first sentence, that first paragraph, and that first scene a hundred times or more before you’re finished. Writing is all about re-writing and at this time all you need to do is get going on that first scene.

But do you know what your first scene should be? Ideally you should start in the middle of some action or something interesting. It shouldn’t be an information dump of the life history of your main character. It shouldn’t be a long prologue; readers don’t want to read prologues. It shouldn’t be about the weather; unless a weather incident is the focus of the storyline. And you shouldn’t spend long passages describing characters with chiselled jawlines or soft silky hair. Keep the descriptions to a minimum and get into the storyline as quickly as you can. Don’t try and explain too much; instead create questions in the reader’s mind. For example: why is this mad cop, with an axe chasing a woman though a closed theme park? You can reveal the answers as the story unfolds and, of course, at the same time create more questions.

In the case of my own novel, Collision, I struggled to find which scene should be first. Initially, the first scene was the night beach scene, when a man jogging on the beach sees a UFO which appears to crash further up the beach. But there are two important scenes, which precede the events on the beach: the scene at mission control, where a US General witnesses the collision between a spy-plane an a UFO; and the escape scene in the future, where the heroine witnesses a murder and escapes in a time-craft. All the scenes could potentially have been the opening scene, since they all had lots of action and movement. But I wanted to hold back the details of the escape scene for as long as I could to keep the reader guessing about the origins of the UFO. In the end I chose to start with the General witnessing the collision even though neither of the main characters were in the scene (Chapter 1); the beach scene became scene 2 (Chapter 2); and the escape scene was dealt with in a flash back at scene 7 (Chapter 4).

The point I am making is that you need think about the best point to open your story. It has to be interesting. And it’s not necessary the most obvious from a chronological viewpoint.

If you want to read the scenes, you can read them for free by clicking on the button to “Look inside the book” at Amazon Kindle.


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