How (not) to Begin a Story

There is a lot of advice on how not to begin a story. Don’t start with your main character waking up and getting out of bed. Don’t start with a slow scene. Don’t open with dialogue. Don’t be vague.

For me writing the opening scene of a novel is probably the hardest part. It isn’t because I don’t know the story. It’s because I get caught up in all those don’ts. For me there is an easy fix. I don’t stress about it … at least not in the first draft. If the only way I can think of to start my story is to have an alarm clock wake up my character, then I do it. If I need to write a few pages (or more) of filler to get in the groove, then I go for it.

When it comes to the first draft, the most important thing you can do is write it. Make all the mistakes you want. It might mean more editing later, but at least you’ll have something to edit. In my experience the first scene always needs to be rewritten anyway. It often has the wrong tone, is in the wrong place, or gives away too much of the story or background.

In the first draft of my YA Portal Fantasy the novel stars with my main character waking up and doing some morning push ups. In that original draft it took 11,000 words to get to the other world. In the most recent draft it takes 6,000 words to get to the other world, and the story starts as the characters walk into the school. I didn’t have to just rewrite the first scene to make the beginning work, I had to rewrite the first four chapters.

My advice on how to start a story is simple: Start typing.  If it is a first draft, and you are a linear writer: start it however you want. Use the first few scenes to get a feel for the story and your characters. Find your voice and play around a little bit. If you’re anything like me, getting the writing time is far more important than anything else you can do right now.

Do you usually have to rewrite your opening scene? Are you a linear writer or do you jump around?


2 thoughts on “How (not) to Begin a Story

  1. Katherine Jay June 6, 2016 / 9:20 am

    I’m a linear writer and I’ve come to accept that I’ll always have to rewrite the beginning, because it’s never right the first time. I open the doc and start typing, just to have something on the page, because I can go back and write something better when I’ve got a feel for the book.


    • NJ Fraser June 7, 2016 / 8:29 am

      Sometimes writing those first words is the hardest part, even if you know you’re going to rewrite them later. Good to know I’m not the only one who knows my beginning is not going to be kept.


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