What if you have a great story idea–characters you love, settings that you can help readers live in, and a plot with plenty of twists and turns–but you have no idea how to start? Most books of writing advice emphasize the importance of the first chapter, the first paragraph, and the first sentence. All that importance can make you stress out. Or, if you’re like me, you think of the climax long before the opening scene. Or you know there are key scenes you want to include but you don’t have one to kick off the story. Don’t worry. You can begin writing a story without a beginning. Try these tips for getting around this form of writers’ block.
Write the Climax
If you can see the climax as clearly as you do one when watching a movie, then write it down. And write it as if there’s a complete story ahead of it. Don’t throw in a bunch of backstory or explanations. Write it as the payoff readers would love.
Write the Scenes You Like Best
Again, if certain scenes are crystal clear to you, write those. The first part of A Shadow on the Snow that hit paper was a scene I knew would go in the middle. I could see it so vividly and enjoyed watching it so much that I had to write it. I also had to write to stop it from replaying in my head. I’ve noticed that if I have a scene or conversation or confrontation I thoroughly enjoy but it keeps looping endlessly in my imagination, I have to write it in order for my mind to move onto something else.
Write Your Main Character’s Ordinary Day
Now before someone leaps up with an objection–yes, I can see you–yes, you in the back row, straining to contradict me–let me explain. I don’t think any story should start with your main character’s ordinary day. I’ve read too many published stories that start like that, and the beginning is always boring. But if you can’t get your story started, write out a typical day for your main character. Seeing his or her daily routine in print may give you an idea on how to find a hook for your beginning.
For Shadow, I started with my main character Rae receiving the first nasty anonymous note. The first lines of the novel are:
I’M NOT FOOLED, RAE. YOU’RE JUST LIKE YOUR MOTHER
I stared at the sheet of copier paper in my hand as the note fluttered in a gust of January wind.
Then readers follow Rae to her job at the library, meet her friends, colleagues, and eventually family. So they learn about her ordinary day. But because of the note, Rae introduces these characters while wondering if this person or that sent it to her. Her ordinary day is no longer ordinary.
For more advice on writing beginnings, read this article from Go Teen Writers.
What are the best beginnings you’ve read?