Where does a story begin? Can you ever truly define the beginning of something? When can you stop, look back over an event, pinpoint an exact moment and say ‘This is it. This is where it all began’?
Where does my story begin?
A beginning should capture the reader’s attention but it shouldn’t promise what it can’t deliver. What I mean by this is a false start: a beginning that is designed purely to catch attention rather than as an organic introduction to the rest of the story. These often take the form of ‘prologues’ and are perhaps most commonly found in thrillers. The type that begins with some brazen crime to show just how serious a criminal we’re dealing with. Many a time I have been tricked into reading an action-packed opening that ultimately leads nowhere. Action is fine – it propels the story along – just as long as it isn’t being used as a gimmick. If no important characters are being introduced, if the opening is just ancillary action and there is no connection or relevance to later events then the opening is a false start. And I feel cheated.
But is there such a thing as the perfect beginning? Writers will often spend many wasted hours fretting over the perfect opening sentence, which extends to the perfect opening paragraph, the perfect opening page, the perfect opening chapter…
A perfect beginning simply begins the story. It gets the ball rolling, so to speak. Of course there are many ways to begin a story. So the best advice would probably be to pick one and go with it.
‘Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’ Perfect advice.