Story Beginnings: Common Pitfalls to Avoid
Last week, I focused on story endings, but before every ending comes a beginning. A strong hook is an important part of all stories. Readers will use this hook to determine whether they should read your story or another story. Therefore, it is important to avoid common pitfalls (which I have described below) when starting your story.
Starting Way Too Early
If your character faces their major life-changing event in the middle of the day, readers don’t want to read about them waking up, brushing their teeth, and eating breakfast. Avoid unnecessary leadup to the true beginning of your plot—the moment when the first domino falls that leads to the rest of your story.
If you find that your story starts too early, don’t be afraid to cut the first few words, pages, or chapters. A good writer is not afraid (or is able to overcome their fear) of removing words from a story.
Description, description, and more description
When readers begin a story, they have no interest in the character or world. That means they have no reason to read through background information. They began your story to learn about the plot, and the beginning should grant them their wish.
You have time to explain everything later, when your readers are invested and curious. It is important to weave details about your world and characters throughout your story, so your readers keep learning new things without feeling overwhelmed. Thus, you should never begin your story with the detailed history of your world.
Complete and utter confusion
On the other end of the spectrum, you may find yourself tempted to start your story in the middle of heated action. While that’s definitely acceptable in a lot of stories, this becomes a problem when the action continues with no explanation. If your readers don’t know who your character is, where the story is taking place, or why the conflict is happening after reading for a long time, they’re going to give up and put the story down.
It’s important to remember that a lot of people read as a break from work, and stories that force them to think constantly do not provide much of a break. If you keep raising questions without providing any answers, readers are going to stop expecting answers and will have no reason to continue reading.
When I awoke yesterday, my life changed forever. Or She was no ordinary high schooler. These are cliché story starters that (with a few adjustments) could be placed at the beginning of pretty much any novel. Dreams are also cliché because they’re often just a way to infodump in a seemingly “natural” way.
Readers want to read something new and exciting, so clichés should really be avoided at all times, but the most important of these times is the beginning. That’s when your readers don’t know how amazing your story is and how unique your characters are, so your starting sentence has to be special and specific to the story.
If you’re starting your standalone novel with a prologue, odds are, you are simply hiding one of the above pitfalls under a different name. Prologues are often used for worldbuilding, providing background information on a character, or explaining the cause for a conflict. They are especially problematic if told as a dream sequence (because that’s cliché) or from a point-of-view that is not represented in the majority of your novel (because that’s false advertising).
If you have a prologue in your novel, figure out what important information you want your reader to gain from it. Then, try to weave this information into other parts of your novel more naturally.
For many people, the first word of a story is the hardest to write. How do you pique reader interest without giving away too much information? How do you make sure your readers aren’t clueless about your world without infodumping? Perfecting the introduction of a story seems impossible, but it’s not.
As long as you avoid these major pitfalls and focus on writing an interesting and natural hook, your story will have an amazing start.
How do you like to start your stories? Let me know in the comments!