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I've been thinking about my story for a while now and the problem I've run into is that I'm not sure how to start it. It isn't that I can't think of how to start it, I actually have a million ideas about how to do that, the problem is that I can't pick the best one to use.

I know this is something I'm probably just going to have to figure out on my own, but is there any advice that anyone who's had this issue before can give?

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    Just pick one. Any of the idea's you have and start with it. If it doesn't fit of feel right you can always edit it later. The most important part is that you just sit down and start writing your story. – Totumus Maximus Jul 5 '18 at 7:18
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    Possible duplicate of How to open a novel? – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 5 '18 at 10:40
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    @Galastel I'm not sure; that question seems to ask about the content of the opening, whereas OP here is asking about how to pick one opening out of many to get themselves started. I'm not saying the answers to that question won't be useful to the OP (they probably will), but I'm much less sure that it actually solves their problem here. – a CVn Jul 5 '18 at 10:42
  • In my experience, the beginning isn't decided until many rounds of revision. – Ken Mohnkern Dec 4 '18 at 15:16
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At this point: don't sweat it.

You've got ideas, and you need to put something on paper (or the computer) to get yourself started. So take one of those ideas and go with it. Any half-way decent opening will do as well as any other at this point, because you aren't writing something that your readers will see; you're writing for yourself. I very much suspect that even "it was a dark and stormy night", cliché as it is by now, will work better than no opening at all. Or open one of your favourite books to the first page and borrow the opening (but make sure to replace it with one of your own before you do anything serious with the manuscript). This is even more true if you know where you'll want to take your story within, say, the first few chapters, because you will be writing to get from whatever opening you choose to that point anyway.

Now, this isn't to say that you will end up picking the best opening, or even the best one out of those you have in your mind. Maybe you'll think of changes that you need to make to it after you've written the first few pages, or maybe you'll have finished half a book by the time you notice that the opening just doesn't work at all and needs to be yanked out with extreme pride and prejudice, and replaced with something entirely different. But that's okay; you are going to be doing plenty of editing anyway, both in terms of details and in terms of big swathes of text, and the opening isn't really special in that regard.

Bottom line: once you have some opening in place, and start writing, you can always tweak it (or replace it entirely, for that matter) later in the process of writing and editing. So put something there, and hold off on worrying about editing it.

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    This seems to give the best advice to a question like this imo.. – Totumus Maximus Jul 5 '18 at 10:58
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    Strong agree. The answer to so many questions here is "Don't sweat it." (In other words, "Just write your story.") – Ken Mohnkern Jul 5 '18 at 13:35
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Tell the more with the fewer words!

Your question is opinion based, I think, but opinions in this matter can rely on facts and experiences, so the discussion may be interesting.

My opinion, based on my personal experience, leads me to think that the best way to start is to tell as quickly as possible what's the matter. I mean, you do not have to give as much information as possible in just one second. It's not a question about how much data is given. You have to tell what the problem or conflict is or will be. Of course, the reader will not have the context to understand it at the first glance, there's a whole story for explaining, but he will be caught by the mystery.

Should I be clearer with some examples ? Please, consider two of my beginnings, which I am quite proud of :

My name is Jessica and I'm twenty-four. My name is Jessica and I'm dead.

With this beginning, many things are told. Indeed, there is one of them that could make you read more: the contradiction between saying "I'm" at the present tense and "dead". How can she say that? What does it mean? You must go on to know. The tension is reinforced by what we have already learned about the MC: she's a young woman, with a first name that could sound quite erotic in a way, she is the life and she is telling us that she's dead. Why?

Well, it takes a whole story to learn why and how she regains life.

Second example:

Once again, the Universe is coming to its end. But this time is different. This time may be the last.

In this case, again, you perfectly understand the words, you can feel that the situation is dramatic: It's a matter of life or death, you know it. What's missing is the why and the how. How can the Universe end more than once? And then, why is it coming to its last end now? At this point, you have not even heard about the MC. But you know his/her problem even if you do not understand it yet.

The keys are: make the reader feel the tension, make him expect more. I think I have described a way to do it.

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Making a rough outline of your story is a good idea. When I do this, I'm able to see the big picture and can figure out how to start. (I'm not guaranteeing that this suggestion will work, though. This is just from my experience with writer's block.) Hope this helps!

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The other answers to this thread say not to sweat it and just write a beginning to get off the ground. I'm a heavy plotter myself, so I wouldn't be comfortable taking that advice. Instead, once I have much of a story outlined, I take the most important elements of the story and tie them into my opening scene.

A strong story has strong characters, compelling themes, a well-structured plot, and symbolism or motifs that carry throughout the story. I'm hoping that at these point, you know what many of these elements will be in your story? A strong beginning will establish all of these elements very quickly, so once you know them, you can start coming up with beginnings that specifically draw these elements out.

Ask yourself questions like these to come up with a strong opening:

  • How does the scene introduce one or more of the most important characters and show the reader the heart of who they are?
  • How does the scene introduce the core theme of the story? What question does it ask or miniature lesson does it encapsulate?
  • How does the scene kick off the plot? Does it suggest what's coming up later in the story?
  • How does the scene introduce a major symbol or motif that will be used throughout the rest of the story?

If you create a scene that has strong answers for most or all of these questions, it will launch your story very quickly and compellingly. Furthermore, when your readers finish your story, they'll think back to the beginning and be rewarded with many "aha" moments as they realize how your story all ties together.


An example of a compelling beginning is the first chapter of Terry Pratchett's Going Postal. The book starts with the main character, Moist von Lipwig, in prison, waiting to be executed. In an attempt to escape, he's been digging out one of the bricks in his cell. The day he's to be hung, he removes the brick - only to find that a new block has been recently installed behind it. As he's lead out of his cell, he's told that the prisonkeepers believe that false hope is good exercise for the prisoners. As a result, the idea of false hope is established within the first scene, and this becomes the central theme of the story. In addition, we learn that von Lipwig is a notorious criminal who always believes he can find a way out of any situation, letting us get to know the main character quickly and in a very interesting situation.

As he's lead to the gallows, von Lipwig jokes around with the guards and the executioner, all of whom are taking the situation very lightly. The juxtaposition of an execution and the lighthearted banter establishes the tone of the novel. It also establishes von Lipwig as a fast talker. Von Lipwig tries to stall for time, hoping that one of his friends will bail him out at the last second. Indeed, as he's standing on the gallows, someone he recognizes runs up to him - only to tell the executioner to get on with it. As von Lipwig realizes he's really going to die, the theme of false hope is emphasized.

To his surprise, von Lipwig wakes up in the office of Lord Vetinari, a powerful despot. The fact that von Lipwig is, in fact, alive puts a twist on the theme of false hope that has already been introduced. Vetinari uses an elaborate metaphor, calling himself an "angel" who is giving von Lipwig a second chance, to force von Lipwig into accepting a very unpleasant job. The religious language used in his metaphor becomes a recurring symbol throughout the novel. He does offer von Lipwig the chance to turn down the job - by walking out of a window in a tower to his death. This establishes Lord Vetinari's character as an affable but devious man who has no problem manipulating others. It also establishes a secondary theme of the limits of free will. The awful job von Lipwig is strong-armed into taking is to run the city's post office. This immediately raises a question in the reader's mind: What is so awful about running the post office that an all-powerful despot has no other options than to fake someone's death in order to find somebody he can get to take the job? This question gives the plot a great deal of momentum as the next several chapters answer that question and introduce more questions for the middle of the novel.

At the end of the novel, Lord Vetinari fakes another criminal's death and gives him a similar offer he can't refuse. This plays out very similarly to the scene Vetinari is introduced in. The imagery used in the beginning of the novel is echoed in the ending, giving the overall structure of the story a very satisfying parallelism.

Within three scenes, Pratchett repeatedly emphasized the primary theme of false hope and explored it from multiple sides and hinted at the secondary theme of free will. He introduced two of the most important characters, Moist von Lipwig and Lord Vetinari, and made it very clear what kinds of people they were. He set up a compelling plot that goes in a clear direction but still leaves the reader with enough questions to be interested in what happens next. He established religious symbolism that carries through the rest of the book as a shorthand for the theme of what happens when foolish hope is realized. And he was able to end the book with a very similar scene to the opening, giving the book a structure that ties itself up neatly.

And he did all of this by being very conscious of what the most important elements of his story were and deliberately incorporating them into his novel's beginning.


If you do take the other answer's advice and write a beginning more for the sake of getting started than knocking it out of the ballpark right away, my advice is still important. When you edit your story for the first few rewrites, you're likely going to be focusing mostly on nailing down your themes, strengthening your characters, streamlining your plot, and finding imagery to repeat through the story to give it a sense of cohesiveness. You'll need to strengthen your beginning at this point by trying all of these elements into your first few scenes.

But if you're not a plotter like I am, writing a beginning to get off the ground and get your first draft finished is a perfectly acceptable approach as long as you know you'll be editing it heavily later.

  • I like your suggestions, but it's worth remembering that you're referring to a finished piece. Terry Pratchett once said that, when he's writing a book, he "can see bits of the story": "I know the story is there. This is what I call draft zero. This is private. No one ever, ever gets to see draft zero. This is the draft that you write to tell yourself what the story is. Someone asked me recently how to guard against writing on auto-pilot. I responded that writing on auto-pilot is very, very important!" He went on to say that he edits like crazy to get it into shape. – Craig Sefton Jul 5 '18 at 18:21
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    @CraigSefton Even so, as a writer who outlines heavily before writing, I've found that I can find a better starting point even for my first draft by thinking about the themes, characters, and motifs I want to include from the beginning. I'll still edit heavily, but I'll start from a place I'm happier with. – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Jul 5 '18 at 18:36
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This is a dimensionality reduction problem. You want to reduce a universe of ideas to a few. If you are writing to be published, you can reduce by considering your target audience and focusing on the importance of the first paragraph. Have you asked yourself who is your audience? If you're thinking "Well, everyone", put down your pen and read some more books on writing.

A first paragraph, ideally a first sentence, must compel your targets to read the second, third, etc. Hopefully, they'll soon become invested in your work.

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The best beginning is the one that's written down and helps you move one step closer towards a completed draft.

Pick one of the many you have, and start to write. (If it helps, jot down all the ideas you have so you don't forget them later.)

Worry about whether it's the right beginning or not later when you finish your story.

You'll never know if it's the best beginning until you have your story written. You can't edit blank pages.

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If you feel that choosing an opening is the only obstacle to writing a story that will just flow quickly and easily once you have done it, then just write some placeholder text and move onward with the rest of your story.

Just write: 'Here is the first sentence of my story.' Then write the other sentences.

Two justifications for this:

  1. It will get you away from the terror of the starting gate and onto familiar territory of the racetrack
  2. Whatever you write will probably get deleted in the editing stage (trust me, I've been there).

Alternatively, here's something different (but perhaps more time-consuming) to try: write out the first ten openings that come to mind (don't bother with the other 999,990 ideas you say you have), get your literary friends together and read them out one-by-one for them to vote on.

Either way, it gets you writing - and this should be your goal here.

Good luck with your story.

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The thing with the opening of a book is that it’s so important. An editor—or reader—is going to decide if your book is worth reading from that first chapter—or even the first page.

Honestly though, just because it’s he first chapter doesn’t mean it has to be written first. You are probably going to rewrite it in editing anyway, because you’ll want what’s REALLY important to your character all crammed into that one chapter without it being too much or too blunt.

My advice would be simply this: skip it. Start with whatever you’ve come up with. If you know that your character is going to meet their future love interest in the third chapter, then start at the third chapter. If you want to explain things in the first chapter, write down what you’re going to explain and then move on to the second chapter. It will be easier later. I promise.

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