Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Writing an Opening

Ah… the dreaded opening. Feared, avoided and even loathed by many writers, the beginning of a novel or short story can be a real challenge. An opening sets the scene, introduces your principal characters and moulds your themes. It can also be the reason that potential readers choose to buy your book or not – no pressure! If you are publishing through Kindle, Amazon’s ‘Click to look inside’ feature alone should emphasise how important the opening of a book really is. People might be dazzled by your cover or wowed by your description, but it means little if they’re not enticed by the first few pages of your book.

The following are some useful tips for writing a gripping and appealing opening. The first thing, and perhaps the most important to remember, is…

… don’t panic about it!

This is vital. Many writers will tell you that the beginning or opening of their story is actually the last thing they write! If you find yourself incurably frustrated when crafting your opening, put it aside and come back to it. If you write it after you’ve scribbled your middle and end, you might even find that you come up with something stronger; after all, you will know the whole book inside out by then!

Don’t rush to tell your characters’ life stories all at once.

We all need help to get started
Here is an example of this: “I like cats,” said Bob, who had green eyes, came from Washington and whose mother was a chef. “Really? Eww!” replied Lucy, who spoke with a London accent and gave herself concussion by falling off a horse when she was three.

‘Sprinkle’ in details about your characters as you write the book. You don’t have to squash it all into the opening. Yes, giving your readers vital information about your principal characters is important, but, just as you get to know people in real life, allow your readers to get to know a little about your characters every time you meet them. This will not only avoid clogging up your opening with information that appears irrelevant or uninteresting, but also provide a more engaging experience for your reader.

Over-description can destroy an opening.

A slow book is not one that people are likely to keep reading. A beautifully written description of a certain place, no matter how stylish, poetic or innovative it is, is not going to charm your reader if it goes on for seven pages. Jump straight into the story; start with action, or carefully craft suspense. Opening your story with dialogue is fine, but don’t overdo it. Although dialogue can be great for furthering a plot and giving your reader details about your characters, it can also make an opening bland and thin if there is too much of it.

These are facts…

Make sure your story is starting with a story, and that you’re not just describing a sequence of events which took place prior to the beginning in order to set your scene. Like with the introduction of your characters, sprinkle this information throughout rather than hitting your reader with it all at once. Not only does it become too much information to retain, it makes for a tedious start and weakens any building of suspense. Trust your reader – don’t over-explain. Writing a solid opening is tough, and it isn’t always a pleasant experience for the author. Don’t force it; focus, and take your time. It might take up more energy and hours than any other part of your book or short story, but don’t worry. All the hard work and frustration will pay off in the end.

About the author

Are you an author looking for somewhere to start? If so, check out Any Subject Books, the family-run and friendly face of publishing and self-publishing. It's a company run by authors for authors and doesn't that say it all?

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