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I have been working on my book (on and off...) for about 6 months. I have a good bit planned out with the plot, story line, and characters. I even have a small idea on how to start the story but somehow it never seems to be right.... So is there a certain place I should start my story? Way before the life changing events? Presently where the main character is and then just do backflashes? Please help!

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Start with something you know you're definitely not going to keep in the finished version, like It was a dark and stormy night.... Assuming that gets you moving, you can just go back and change the beginning. There's not really any chance you'll forget to do that - but if you did, the first person you show it to for comments is bound to mention it! –  FumbleFingers Jan 18 '12 at 18:10
    
Please note that this question has been retained for historical reasons, and shouldn't be considered a good example of an on-topic question for this site. –  Neil Fein Apr 22 '13 at 2:02

7 Answers 7

There isn't a certain way to start a novel - it all depends on the story you want to tell.

The opening will set the tone of your story and should ideally give an idea of the main themes in the book. For example, if a big part of your story is the main character dealing with their past, then maybe you would want to start in the past, or start with a flashback to the past. Or if a big part is the relationship between two characters, then you could start in the present with a key scene between them that foreshadows the tribulations that are to come; or perhaps with a flashback to how they met, if the meeting has information that will intrigue the reader and throw some mystery onto the relationship.

It really comes down to what feels right - the fact that you're able to discern that things don't fit is a good start! Keep trying different tacks until you find one that you know is the one.

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With that in mind, I guess my flashback idea is the right place I want to start. I just need to find out how to word it right I guess. Thanks so much for the help though –  Mina Presley Jan 11 '12 at 7:34

The most important thing to remember when writing the opening of the story is that you have to keep the reader interested.

If it bores the reader, there is a high chance that he or she will put the book down.

This does not mean starting straight off with the life-changing events; in fact, those events will feel fake if there is no build-up. (Not to mention that the reader might not understand what's going on - another reason readers put down books!)

Bottom line, though, is that it depends on many factors.

By the way, you can post possible openings here and ask for critique.

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Here are some pointers from what I have learned from experience and from what more experienced writers have told me:

  1. If you're a beginner, it is better to stick with linear time. Attempt flashbacks, parallel story arcs and such once you get a good handle of story telling. In your case, consider starting just before the very first life changing / significant event.
  2. Decide whether you're writing in first person, third person omnipotent or third person limited. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages (see related questions on this website). Each narrative style will allow you to cover past events in different ways. Read some of your favorite authors and see how they do it.
  3. It's good that you have a story planned out. If you have the backdrop / history of your story already in mind, it will be easy to introduce them into the story later on (in the sci-fi genre, these are sometimes called 'info-dumps').
  4. If what you are suffering from is the problem of mounting that hurdle between the story idea and the first sentence (where you just stare at the blank first page): one way to overcome this (and this depends on the genre) is to vividly visualize the scenes in your head without even thinking that its for a book. Try thinking of it as a movie you're watching. Then try describing the first scene. More often than not, this will get you rolling.
  5. The difficult part is to string together scenes into events and then the events into a coherent story. It's difficult because each subsequent scene/event has to be consistent with all those that went before it, which naturally includes the back stories.
  6. Don't expect to get it right the first time. The essence of writing, some say, is rewriting.
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Thank you, this was very helpful and hopefully, I will keep these things in mind. Thank you –  Mina Presley Feb 3 '12 at 8:09

If the beginning is blocking you, start writing something else.

You have an outline, right? You know roughly what's going to happen when. So pick some point which is easier, and start there. My suggestion is to start near the beginning (If your intro is I. in your outline, start with II., for example), but start with whatever part makes you excited to be writing.

Once you get into the groove, and you're feeling the voices of your characters and watching the story unfold under your fingertips, you can let that momentum carry you back to the opening of the story.

And you might develop an opening and then toss it three months from now when you're halfway through the book and you realize there's a better way to present your story. That's okay too.

Find excuses to start writing, not excuses to keep you from writing.

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+1 for a great attitude to writing summed up very neatly: "Find excuses to start writing, not excuses to keep you from writing." –  Zayne S Halsall Jan 14 '12 at 16:40

When in doubt, make it count for something. Many authors begin the story at a place which is or will be a pivotal part of the plot. Only you will know where or what this is, of course.

That is not to say that you should elaborate or explain why this particular passage is central, of course. Suspense and lack of information will drive your story forward.

A few famous examples:

The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler begins with the main event: The time when the protagonists wife asks him for a divorce. This is the event that triggers everything that transpires in the book.

Lord of the Rings by Tolkien begins with him describing the hobbit race. They will turn out to be the main focus of the books.

The hitchhiker's guide the the galaxy, by Douglas Adams begins with a description of Earth, and its subsequent destruction. The reasons for which are not immediately obvious.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown begins with the assassination of an old man, which puts us firmly in the middle of the conspiracy and a murder mystery.

Perhaps more or less all books can be crammed into such a category, but the point is, this central point was invented (or discovered) by the author. Follow the threads in your story, see where they originate, and begin there.

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All of Dan Brown's books tend to start that way. –  LarsTech Jan 24 '12 at 17:08

There have been a bunch of good suggestions already. I think what I'm offering up is coming from a slightly different angle.

My first question to you is how do you want to write your story, or how do you want to write stories in general? Some writers are fervent outliners and they refuse to write any scenes until a solid skeleton is built. Some writers are intentionally discovery writers, they write with some purpose, story, character, setting, etc in mind, but they do not have a specific plan for what will happen. They let the story come to them as they write and edit.

As stated, there is not one answer. The most important is to not allow yourself too much time to think about it. There isn't a perfect formula, but for me, I try to evenly balance my time between mental processing and content creation. Or another way to put it, just start typing, or scribbling, or sketching... It is frustrating as a writer to produce bad content, but it is a contradiction as a writer to produce no content.

Trying something like a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) group... or a meet-up to get you into the discipline of producing content. Once you're writing consistently you can even potentially work on multiple projects at once to keep your mind fresh, as perhaps even find other genres you really enjoy.

There's tons of advice to be given, but the most important is to put words on paper. The rest will follow...

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To be honest, I have been trying several different methods of planning, not planning, and such. My ideas for a story first come to me usually with 1 single even and then (or after) the characters. It seems like I can plan out the characters, histories for the most part, and how I want interactions to go but as for the actual details, there is the block. It makes it worse because when I go back and read what I have written, I see practically only the flaw and get frustrated, which leads to disaster. –  Mina Presley Feb 3 '12 at 8:08
    
What genre are you writing Mina? –  Steve the Maker Feb 3 '12 at 12:33

In the teach-a-writer-to-fish vein, may I suggest that a fruitful approach to a question like this is to look at some books you particularly like and see how those writers did it.

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