Excellent writing is firmly rooted in knowing who your reader is. Think about the person who will read your words. Image him or her in your mind.
What is their gender, age, interests [broad or narrow] what you create will have to appeal to the reader. It is now your job to entertain, persuade or inform and to keep that reader in mind. If nothing else, this type of thinking will keep you out of your ego and into your characters.
Readers often see themselves as a character in your story. Let the reader use their imagination, contribute some of the finer details, create their own visions as they read yours story. Once you have this firmly developed, pick the place where your story will start. Now is the time to begin to put words on the paper.
Show the Main Character in Focus
Let the reader see the main character first, like the front of a car as it comes around the bend. Scenery is dull and is not what your audience wants to see first. Recall the old acronym, KISS? Keep it simple, stupid. Show those beautiful, eloquent descriptions later, after you have the reader’s head firmly in your grip. Focus on the main character, physical details and get that reader into his/her head. “If you stop the story to give the reader a guided tour, you may lose them.”
Provide Context for the Main Character
With the protagonist firmly in the reader’s mind, begin to show the social environment in which this character lives. Think about your character. Who is he/she? Social outcast, well liked, part of the in crowd, a loner, does he/she move in sync with the world. Show how your character relates to the people and the world around them.
Show Plot Line and Conflict
Pick a scene that not only introduces your character but also presents the overall conflict. For instance, if the story is a murder mystery, start with the murder or the scene as the protagonist first appears, what he/she sees, thinks, how they relate to the people around them.
The first scene should set the tone for the whole story. The first scene needs to create the character in a scene that depicts not only the overall situation, but also the internal conflict. Let the reader see that there is something at stake for the protagonist, an attachment to something or someone and that whatever or whoever that is, is in danger.
Remember, this doesn’t have to be a huge battle or someone dying [unless it is a murder that needs to be solved], but it does need to show us action and how the character to attached to this action. A reader wants to care about the characters, the situation, wants to be engaged in the development of circumstances and how it is all going to end.
Set mood and pace of the story
Your opening scene sets the overall mood of your writing. Set the tone accurately for your reader. If the piece is to be humorous, start with a lighter tone, dark or gloomy, use your beginning descriptive phrases and your character to depict this, show the conflict and/or the why to be a life or death situation if that is what it is. Does that mean that the story can’t change halfway through? Of course not, but the writer had better have an excellent way to show the transition. This goes to rules, they can be broken effectively for creative purposes but the basic rule to follow is consistency.
Establish Motive: Why Does the Character Care
Present within the beginning of your story the motive of the character. Ask yourself “Why is this character doing this?” “Why not just walk away from it all?” Develop for your reader the personal stake that your character has in seeing the plot through, single out the character’s passion and engage the reader in the struggle.
Protagonists must have a question that needs an answer, a decision that requires resolving, one that reflects personal needs and desires. What is that question that drives the character? Why? Why? Why? Let the reader know what that ‘why’ is. When the moment of decision comes, when desire comes up against the reality of the world, the reader engages as the character grapples with this defining moment in his/her life.
The evil spirits we all have within us reveal the contrasts in our values and our outer behavior. In that first scene, make your character human, mortal with inner conflicts and flaws. This provides depth and allows the reader to understand the characters possibility for change.
Follow Writing Rules
No matter what genre you are writing, start with the most plausible elements. If it is a battle, provide actions and reactions that could be real. Even in Science Fiction or Fantasy, start with the most plausible first. If for some reason, the character doesn’t have to follow the rules, provide the reader with an explanation of this special ability. The writer doesn’t need to get into details here, those can come out later, let the reader wonder for a while, but don’t drop something unexpected into the middle of the story that you haven’t hinted at (foreshadowed) in the beginning.
How To Do It
If you have thought through the framing of your story, a single scene will convey everything. It is possible to integrate all of these points in your beginning and to do so will ensure that your story is off to a solid start.
- Tightly write the first paragraph [Show rather than Explain]
- Use selective details, word choice, similes and metaphors.
- Create images, strong dialogue and phrases, to focus on the character within environmental importance.
- Draw attention to motive and ask why.
- Show the threat, the crime, the action
- Make the reader aware of inner conflicts between wants and needs
- Display that one overwhelming passion that drives the character.
Take special note of the word show. Do not explain and, by following these basic rules for good beginnings, the tone and pace will follow and your story will become better for it.
Dorry Catherine Pease is a freelance writer, writing coach and author of Blueprint for Life, Harper Collins 2006. You can learn more about her by visiting her website at DCtherineWritersWeb.