Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How to Write Good Beginnings

Hey everyone! I couldn't think of what to write this week but luckily, this morning in creative writing, we discussed how to write good beginnings to books. Which was a surprise, because often in creative writing we just veer off into random topics. It was kind of fun at first, but I sort of wish we would just stay on topic now. Anyway, whatever.

I think a lot about how to write good beginnings, because honestly, a lot of good books have kind of sucky beginnings. There are a lot of reasons for continuing to read a book after the first few pages, and often it's something like, you have to read it for class, or your friend swears it's absolutely amazing and you want to see when it gets good, stuff like that. And sometimes books with bad beginnings that you have to keep reading anyway do come through with a great story. But if you're just at the bookstore or library picking up a book to see if it's good, you're not likely to keep going with something that's "eh" at the beginning (unless the back cover promises something amazing, I guess, but even then, if it's a bookstore, you might not spend money on it). And when it comes time to choose between reading your new book and wasting time on the Internet, you're going to choose the thing that captures you inextricably. Basically, I'm saying that you're fighting against the Internet for attention. It's a tough job.

How does one fight the Internet for attention, you ask? Well, you have to write something that makes a reader both enjoy what's happening right now and be excited for what comes next. There's several parts to this:

-Voice: Your voice has to be charming, delightful, exciting, witty, easy to read, and a good indicator of the voice for the rest of the book. This has to make the reader think, "I want to hear more from this person." If you've established a good voice for the rest of the book, definitely be sure to amp up the best parts of it here. I've noticed that readers (me in particular) get captivated by voices that point out eccentric or obvious things in funny ways, or make unique observations that no one would have thought of. Or you can just say something that sounds like it would be great on a Pinterest board or something. Again, competing with the Internet.

-Concept: What is unique about your story's concept? If you're writing a story about aliens, what sets this alien story apart from all the others? Do the aliens really like fashion design? Highlight the unique and interesting thing about your story right off the bat. For example, the story we were analyzing in class was about a detective. What made this detective unique was that she was the only female detective in Botswana. So the story highlighted this concept right off the bat.

-Something Happens: I don't necessarily mean action, but something "fun" has to be going on. Something that would compete against a Buzzfeed list. So, frankly, it could be a list- of the types of fairies in your fairy kingdom and the fun tasks they do each day, or the objects on the detective's desk. Obviously, don't stick too long with one topic like that, but move around, catch the reader's attention with stuff that's going on. An interesting conversation. A fun anecdote. A humorous talk about the world the book's set in. You can't just convey information, or have some boring Establishing Nonsense happening (like a regular day at lunch at the protagonist's school or something). It has to be either conveying information in a fun way that is constantly moving forward, like a Buzzfeed article or some Tumblr post or something would, or a narrative bit of action that is unique and exciting.

-Clarity: Starting off a story by confusing your reader is an almost guaranteed way to get them to stop reading. Do not just plunge them into an unfamiliar world without any sort of guidance. Even if you are just plunging them into the unfamiliar world, make sure that they have the potential to figure it out without having to stop reading and work it out like a puzzle. Make sure that if there's a new idea introduced, there's a subtle explanation behind it (not an obvious, dictionary-definition one, but a little snippet of conversation or thought that gives away what's going on). And don't have too much rushing around and context-less dialogue and action when you've just started the book. If there is a huge chaotic mess, you need a huge amount of context and explanation to make it work. Make the beginning as clear as you can.

-Plot Establishment: There's some quote by some author that says something like "start the book as close to the end as you can." Basically, don't take too long to get to what we want to hear: the story. (and for THOSE OF YOU who are going to call me a hypocrite for saying this, I KNOW that I am bad at this myself). Even if you're doing some fun irrelevant nonsense at the beginning, it should actually be relevant in some way, if only just to establish character and background. Everything you put down should be leading us constantly to the end of the story. Otherwise, it's bogging us down.

There's definitely more parts to constructing a good beginning, and I probably didn't word these so well with all my Buzzfeed analogies, haha. I know Buzzfeed isn't the height of literary professionalism, but it is great with one thing: never spending too much time on one idea. There's a concrete idea, a cute bit of words, a gif, and we're on our way to item two. If you want readers to keep turning pages, you should strive, as odd as it sounds, to be like a Buzzfeed list in this way.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any other ideas on how to write beginnings, because that would be helpful for all of us.
See you next week,

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what sad or scary books do in their beginnings. They cannot have something 'fun' happen because it's against the whole concept of the book. (I "wonder", because I refuse to read sad or scary books on the grounds that life itself provides us with all the sadness and fear we need.)
    What I did notice is that most books have their character/s do/say something in the first few sentences that causes me to think "hmm, I wonder what that was all about?" And then I want to keep reading to find out. So I think the main thing is to get the reader curious in the first few sentences.