Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Enter, Kicking Ass: Your Story's Opening

Your beginning is gonna be key. If it sucks, you're losing your reader right at the start and that's bad.

In order to make your beginnings work, you need to make sure you have the following:
  • Hook
  • Status Quo
  • Shift
HOOK
First thing you gotta do is "hook" your reader.

Most people think this means starting with a bang--literally. A gunfight. A big chase, battle, or other action sequence. A grisly murder. A shocking line of dialogue.

Sure. If that works for the type of story you're writing then go for it.

Basically you're trying to open with an image, an action, or a description that pulls the reader into your story and immediately impacts a primary character.

If you decide to open your story with the weather, make sure it's more than just a description. Make that description work. Instead of opening with
It was a dark and stormy night
and then going on to describe how dark and how stormy it was, why not open with something like
It was a dark and stormy night and Caitlin cringed as the wind slammed into the picture windows yet again, praying hard they wouldn't break.

Because those things were out there.

And they went through open windows first.
Here, you're not just opening with a description of the weather. You're also giving context to that weather in terms of plot development.

The whole point of the "hook" is to make the reader want to read more and with this kind of a beginning, your reader will want to read more, to find out what those "things" are and why they go through open windows first.

STATUS QUO
Once you've got them, set up the world of the story. That means introducing the setting, the protagonist, the antagonist, and the various relationships between important characters.

Here, you're describing the "normal" before the "un-normal" happens. Your MC has a dog, is estranged from his parents, and lives a dull, boring life. Or your MC is an angsty teen who just wants to go to the Academy but constantly gets stuck behind at home to work on the condensers on the south ridge.

Once you've done that, it's time for the "un-normal," otherwise known as...

SHIFT
You've drawn the reader into the story world. You've shown him the "normal" state of the world for the protagonist.

Now we get to the end of the beginning.

Now we violently unquo the quo.

We turn the protagonist's world upside down. Horribly upside down. An event happens that upsets the status quo and moves the story into the middle.

This is where your hero discovers the ring he's inherited is a powerful object and it's being hunted by servants of the Dark Lord. This is where the galactic farmboy from a backwater planet finds his aunt and uncle have been killed by the bad guys so he has to leave the planet or get killed.

From here, your story spins itself toward the middle.

And things start to get interesting.

(Check out this post for more on writing the middle.)

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