It may seem obvious, but only to a reader, less obvious to a writer – the beginning is the most important of any story you put up, especially any story you put up on public websites. At that point, you’re actively competing for attention. Titles will grab attention, but views mean nothing if readers drop off like flies within the first few lines. The beginning is the most important part of a story in this way.
With this being the case, there are some decent opening strategies but there seem to be a lot more bad strategies. I’m really glad to say I haven’t seen this particular strategy used in a long time, but one that always grinds my gears is ‘Let me tell you a bit about myself.’ Especially since this isn’t even followed by the character’s background and personality, but rather their physical traits.
“Let me tell you about myself. My name’s Brian. I have black hair, an average build, green eyes and a 16 inch dick.”
“I figured I’d stay unpopular all my life, and that’s why I asked Samantha, the hottest girl in school, to prom. It was basically a joke to me, a chance to laugh at myself. That would be why my head was spinning when she said yes.”
Which of those two would you rather read? Don’t get me wrong, you could give me a compelling case as to why the second example wasn’t all that great either, but the former isn’t the beginning of a story. It’s a bunch of details, mostly visual details that you could just explain more creatively through the story. Again, I don’t often agree with ‘show, don’t tell’ but I absolutely agree here. Whenever a story begins like this, all it tells me is that either the author is too inexperienced at writing to understand they’re just giving me the visuals in the least creative way possible, or they didn’t want to go through with the effort of actually weaving it into the story. No matter which of those two the reason is, why would I invest my time in that story if either of those were true? In the former case, I probably would still invest the time, given I want to nurture writers and make sure they get better, but if it’s from a writer that has published many pieces, if it’s clear they’re not putting through the effort to actually write well, I don’t need to put in the time to read it.
When we can find an example of one bad opener and explore why it’s bad, that opens the discussion of what makes an opener great. I don’t want to say too many things about this, mostly because when anyone says ‘always do this’ it limits any influenced writer’s ability to explore different ways of going about it. With that being said, above all, you want the reader to keep reading. It sounds obvious when said, but it’s super important to take that advice and apply it to stories. In a story, the most difficult part for me is the first three paragraphs.You want to withhold enough info and make the reader ask just enough questions to keep writing. And the number one question you don’t want your reader asking is, “Okay, but why do I care about that?” If I don’t know the character Brian, I do not care what color hair he has. I want to know what he wants, to see if I relate to him, blah blah blah Why People Read Stories 101.
By all means, I do not have all of the answers either, which is why I find this topic super fascinating. Now that I’m starting more short stories, I’m writing more beginnings, and they’re as tough as ever for me. Given this, it’s easiest to start with the worst-case examples and work my way up, figuring out along the way what works and what doesn’t. The worst-case scenario, for me, appears to be this trope. “Let me tell you something about myself.” It’s just an author’s declaration of “I don’t know how to explain my protagonist’s appearance in any kind of interesting and compelling way, so fuck it.” Again, I’m happy to say I haven’t seen this trope in a while, and let’s hope that continues.
Winter is a bad time for me on an emotional level, as I’m sure it is for a lot of people (seasonal diseffective disorder and all that) but I’m trying not to let it get in my way. Back to writing. I’ll talk to you all in a week!