12. Starting Your Book

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     So you’ve talked yourself into writing a book, but now you’re wondering ‘where do I start?’ Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place. Plato said, “The beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken” and boy is Plato right (I mean seriously, who can argue with Plato?).
     The first fifty pages are the most important pages of your book. The author has a tremendous task to execute these pages with technique and precision. Here’s what you need to accomplish in this little amount of space:

This is very important, because without a character you don’t have a story!

  • Establish your character’s norm

This means your character’s “normal”, meaning define what a normal day in their life is like before it gets all haywire from what’s to come. It’s important to show this that way the readers recognize when there is, in fact, a change and they can recognize that it’s significant.

  • Establish your World (world building)

This is also important to establish what your World is like ASAP. If magic and fairies and vampires and werewolves are apart of your world, immediately let your reader know, so there are no surprises for them. Don’t one moment have your world as a contemporary, non-magical place and then all the sudden introduce that your character is a Master Witch. Either keep your world as the contemporary, non-magical place or immediately show that you character is a Master Witch that can take over the world. This 1) makes it easier for the reader to know what they’re getting into and 2) keeps the reader from being confused.

  • Establish POV and stick with it

Once you pick a POV stick with it consistently. This isn’t to say you cant ever change the pov from one character to another, it just simply means that whatever you do decide to do (i.e. third lim. from a man and then woman’s pov) make sure that is consistent throughout the entire novel. Reader’s need to connect with the characters and a way they do is partially through whatever POV the character is being portrayed through.

  • Establish a conflict/ antagonist/ something the protagonist has to lose

This is critical to move the plot along and will most likely be toward the end of the fifty pages. This can be either internal or external conflict or both. The readers crave something to go wrong in the character’s world, because we live in an imperfect world. Who would want to read a story where nothing goes wrong? Give the readers some drama, and quick!

  • Get the pacing perfect

This is a very difficult thing to accomplish, even for seasoned writers, but it’s crucial to have a perfect pace that’s not too fast or slow during the first few chapters of your novel. If it’s too slow you’ll lose the reader, if it’s too fast you lose detail and will ultimately confuse the reader. Just remember all the techniques of writing and try to balance them as delicately as possible for the best results.

  • Pull the reader in from line one

The beginning of your book is crucial for any reader picking up your book for the first time, or agent even, you’ve got to hook them by the first line. A good technique for this is starting off with action. Put the reader right into the middle of it.

     Let’s take a look at the opening of a popular book, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. By page fifty we’ve established that:

  • Katniss has a little sister, Primrose, and a cat that hates her.
  • She has a friend named Gale that she goes hunting with, with her weapon of choice (i.e. bow and arrow), even though its not allowed.
  • She lives in District 12, which isn’t doing too well.
  • By word two we are aware that the POV is in first person. By page seven we learn her name is Katniss, or “Catnip” as her guy friend Gale calls her.
  • There’s an internal conflict when Gale suggests that they run away. The external conflict comes when the Reaping happens. There’s tension while drawing the name. Katniss hopes it’s not her (be careful what you wish for they say) and then her sister’s name is called and she volunteers. And then the readers are introduced to Peeta, the male tribute, which we don’t know yet, but sets us up for a new internal conflict.
  • The pacing may seem a little fast, but it’s actually rather steady. It may just seem that way because the reader is dropped pretty close to the conflict to begin with.
  • And we have the first line pulling the reader in, “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold” (3). This leaves readers interested. Who is ‘I’? Why is the other side of the bed cold? Who usually sleeps there to make it not cold? And why did they leave? It’s good to have readers ask so many questions, because if they want those questions answered they will keep reading to find out.

     In The Hunger Games we have a good start where we have conflict, world established, a character norm before it’s distorted, and good pacing that slows after the excitement of the Reaping, to establish the new character norm of the tributes on their way to District 13. All in all this is a good beginning to model after.

DO NOT:

  • Open with a cliché

For example, starting with your character waking up from a dream and looking into a mirror—or any reflective surface (for gods sake, find another way to describe your characters! …I say this with love of course). Or starting off with a storm outside or having the charter’s first day of school—avoid avoid avoid avoid! Here’s some more examples of cliché beginnings that everyone will roll their eyes at:

http://michellewittebooks.com/2013/08/openings-that-dont-get-me-excited/

http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/12-cliches-to-avoid-when-beginning-your-story

  • Narrate a prologue

It is always always always better to show than to tell (Show vs tell). Start off your book showing what’s happening not tell your reader what happening. Your reader wants to see what’s going on not read some boring blurb about what happened. Listen, it happens, we’ve all been there (me included), but let’s be honest the reader would rather see the action than be told what to believe. It’s a common first draft problem and can be easily fixed through revision.

     You’ve got one shot to impress the reader or an agent you’re pitching to, so make your beginning good—make it a killer beginning. I believe in you :)
     Hopefully this advice puts you all off on the right start. Now go write! For more info on starting your book off, I strongly recommend adding The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke to your writing library. This book is a must add to your writing kit, so get your hands on a copy somehow.

Works Cited

 Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008. Print.

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