Charlie Laidlaw is an author and tutor at Creating Writers
Every book has to start somewhere, but don’t let the start of your book read like a starting gun.
Yes, you can be provocative or shocking, but too much action right at the start can be dizzying. We really need a bit of context first. We need to know who or what this story might be about, if only in sketchy outline.
The beginning of your book should set a tone. Within reason, the reader should know what they can expect. For example:
“My mother is scraping a piece of burned toast out of the kitchen window, a crease of annoyance across her forehead. This is not an occasional occurrence, a once-in-a-lifetime hiccup in a busy mother’s day. My mother burns the toast as surely as the sun rises each morning.”
Nigel Slates, Toast
“I am lying in bed, next to my brother, Lupin.
He is six years old. He is asleep.
I am fourteen. I am masturbating.”
Caitlin Moran, How to Build a Girl
“Another year, and I still don’t like old people. Their Zimmer-frame shuffle, their unreasonable impatience, their endless complaints, their tea and biscuits, their bellyaching.
“Me? I am eighty-three years old.”
Hendrik Groen, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen
“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more grey each one that what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.”
Cormac McCarthy, The Road
“Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn’t matter what. She was in the white corner and that was that.”
Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit
Each of those examples provide a snapshot of the rest of the book, whether comic or bleak. Each therefore has an honesty; the author isn’t trying to “sell” their book for what it isn’t.
You must therefore find that kernel of honesty in your own writing. Your reader trusts you to tell a story that might be comic, romantic, murderous, exciting or magical. Start your book as you mean to go on.
Never, never mislead your reader at the start!
The first sentence and first paragraphs are the bits of writing you’ll probably spend the most time thinking about, and revisiting and editing. And rightly so, because if those first paragraphs don’t grab readers’ attention then they won’t read on.
But always, always remember that you don’t immediately have to get those first sentences absolutely perfect. You can go back and edit. As your thinking develops, a new beginning may occur to you. The important thing is to keep writing, keep putting down dialogue and narrative. Keep moving your thinking along.
If you need help getting started, Creating Writers has two online creative writing courses, an introductory course and our flagship Diploma course.
It’s an intensive course, with lots of face-to-face tuition. It also comes with a real qualification at the end of it.
That could not only kick-start your writing career but provide you with a valuable qualification for your resume.
Our courses are intended to give you the confidence and skills to understand what makes great writing. On the Diploma course, we’ll also get you started on your novel.
For more information, you can contact us here.
hoto by Aamir Suhail on Unsplash