How to Begin Part 1

How to Begin Part 1

This blog answers the question of how do we begin? This is really two different questions (how do I begin my novel and how do I begin my story) so I will be answering it in two parts. First, how do we begin our novel and what should we do and not do in our first three chapters? Let’s get started.

Good beginnings should start a step back from the inciting incident. Don’t make your reader wait for the action, dive right in. Good beginnings should also hook the reader, introduce main characters (without info dumping), introduce setting (sprinkled in), build up tension, and establish voice. Your first three chapters are the most crucial because agents and publishers will judge your story on the first three chapters and so will your readers. If you don’t have strong characters and an intriguing plot, your readers will not make it very far before giving up. Use action and dialogue to Show Not Tell and avoid info dumps. The best way for readers to get to know your characters is to show who they are in what they do and say. Don’t get stuck in an internal monologue, we need action and to care about and understand your characters. Draw your reader into the story.

Do not get stuck on backstory. Leave questions for the reader to ponder and keep the action going. In fact, it’s these questions that will keep them reading to find out more. Give information as needed throughout your story. Try not to start with a dream, it is overused and can seem like a trick to the reader and they may not like wasting their time understanding something that didn’t even happen. Do not give overly detailed descriptions and too flowery language to tell the tale. Unless you are writing the next Finnegan’s Wake, we want clarity and to keep the pacing moving forward. Too much description halts the action and calls attention to the writing instead of the story, which is fine for some literary genres, but is not the desired effect for most stories. Let your POV characters describe their world. Do not lose focus either by juggling too many characters, too many storylines, too many POV changes, or too many places in your story. Some authors do a great job of it, but it makes things hard for your reader. Help your reader settle into the story and start with a smaller cast of characters; you can always add in later books in the series after your reader has a good handle on the main characters. Do not use laundry lists of descriptions whether for a character or setting. Break up descriptions and sprinkle them in throughout your beginning. Do not have your characters simply thinking or reflecting on their life too much, unless this is a character study or vignette. Too much introspection can make it tedious for the reader to just sit with a character, depending on the genre. Use action to show how your character is feeling or thinking instead of telling us what they feel. And try not to overly rely on flashbacks in the beginning. Readers need to be interested in the current story happening now before they’re willing to delve into the past. Do not use prologues to dump backstory; prologues should be thought out and planned, keeping in mind a lot of readers skip them entirely. Figure out how to add it into the current story or make it so that it gives more information but isn’t necessary to understand the plot of the main story.

These are some good basics for what to do and what not to do in your first three chapters. I know I personally struggle with strengthening the beginning of my manuscript to get it ready for publication. Follow these dos and don’ts and let me know if you have any rules for your first three chapters. Comment below and happy writing.


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