You hafta start somewhere.
In writing a book, I mean. The book hasta start, right? So where? And how?
We can’t look for better guidance, though, than Lemony Snicket who, in Book 4 of A Series of Unfortunate Events, THE MISERABLE MILL, says:
Sometime during your life – in fact, very soon – you may find yourself reading a book, and you may notice that a book’s first sentence can often tell you what sort of story your book contains…. And if you liked mischief, a grand old time, or trophies, you would know which book to read, and you could throw the rest of them away.
But this book begins with the sentence “The Baudelaire orphans looked out the grimy window of the train and gazed at the gloomy blackness of the Finite Forest, wondering if their lives would ever get any better,” and you should be able to tell that the story that follows will be very different from the story of Gary or Emily or the family of cunning little chipmunks.
Well said. Well said.
Beginnings aren’t just marks on the paper, signaling to the discerning reader than there is print on the page; they open the door. Beginnings are the first impression in the speed-dating event that is book shopping or library browsing.
It doesn’t really matter if you begin your book with, “Suddenly the door burst open, and a man strode in, a gun in each hand. Bang! Bang!” or with, “Moonlight shimmered over the waves of the lake, moving in ripples from the spot where Maude had gone down for the third time.”
People will tell you, “Never begin with weather,” or “Never begin with backstory,” but the truth is, you can begin with any damn thing, as long as it engages the reader and leads the reader to want to read more.
Here are just a few openings that engaged my attention and led me inexorably into wonderful — and very different books.
The foreman chatters in Meihua, the beautiful tongue, Singapore English. “Get he over here. All this trash here! Got little time.” He is a stocky little Chinese man who has suffered disappointments. — CHINA MOUNTAIN ZHANG, by Maureen F. McHugh
I don’t want to go to the zoo anymore. — TURTLE DIARY, by Russell Hoban
There were four of us — George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were — bad from a medical point of view, I mean, of course. — THREE MEN IN A BOAT, TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG, by Jerome K. Jerome
Dortmunder blew his nose. — THE HOT ROCK, by Donald E. Westlake
I knew something was up when Mum sat down in the front room in her apron. On a Sunday, and all! — BOTTLETOPS FOR BATTLESHIPS: SYLVIE’S WAR, by Andrea Gilbey
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Go get five books you knew you wanted to read from the minute you opened them, and determine what about the beginnings hooked you.