by Renea Guenther @ReneaGuenther
Beginnings need to cover a lot of material in a short space of time.
We need to introduce the characters and their world, the story needs to be set up, the plot needs to be set in motion.
And we only have a handful of chapters to do it.
That’s a lot to throw at the reader, but if we don’t include it, the readers won’t have all the information they need to connect with the character or story.
But we also don’t want to slow the story to the point of the readers losing interest.
The opening scene is not the only place we have to hook the readers, we must do it all the way through the book.
And a slow beginning is a lot easier to walk away from, than later when the reader’s already read half the book or more.
Five common problems can start the beginning wrong or slow its pace to a drag:
It Begins in the Wrong Place
Everyday lives are boring for the most part.
We must show where the character starts out, but it must be interesting.
Readers connect with characters in conflict, especially when it disrupts their everyday lives.
Our lives are full of disruptions and conflict. Nothing ever goes the way we’d like it to, or we’d all be living in a utopia living perfect lives.
And as bad as it sounds, we enjoy seeing others struggle as much as we do, even if they’re fictional characters.
It reminds us we’re human and not alone in this world.
Seeing others face insurmountable odds and come out stronger in the end, makes us feel better about our own lives, and our personal struggles don’t seem not as big as they first appeared.
To capture a reader’s interest, we must give them a realistic character facing trials that match or surpass those of the reader.
Our scenes must have conflict, right from the beginning, and a hero stepping up to the challenge with a plan to fix the problem, even if it’s just trying to make a run for it.
The reader must want to see what happens next and what the character will do to get out of the trouble or fix it.
Once they understand the circumstances of the conflict and what’s at stake, they begin to connect with the character and get involved in the story.
The sooner you introduce conflict, the better chance you will have of capturing their attention and keeping it.
It Has the Wrong Amount of Setup
We want our readers to connect with and understand our story, and as such, it can be tempting to use every piece of character and world history we created.
However, too much backstory and infodumps at the beginning of a scene can drag a story down and lose the reader’s interest.
The reader needs only enough information to understand what’s going on.
A paragraph or two is more than enough time to set the scene.
Overloading them or revealing too much can make the scene boring or pointless.
The readers want to see your characters in action, so get to it as soon as possible.
It Has a Reactive or Nonexistent Protagonist
Your reader should know who the protagonist is right from the start.
No matter how many points of view you choose to introduce, only one should be the deciding factor in the core conflict.
They should be the one with the most to gain or lose, and everything that happens is a direct result of their decisions or actions.
We want our readers to connect with the character on a personal level, to care what happens to them.
One person standing out of the crowd makes them special. When there is more than one, nobody is special.
It Leaves Nothing to Reveal
Every scene should give the reader an incentive to keep moving.
We want to make it as hard as possible to put the book down. And when they eventually do, impossible to set aside in favor of another book.
The goal is to draw them into the story and keep them there until they reach the end, and hopefully, onto the next book.
But we can’t end every scene with conflict, or we’ll quickly run out of ways to keep the tension high.
We also don’t want to keep the reader at such a pace they never have a chance to stop and take a breath.
This can be done by ending with something interesting—a piece of information, a surprise reveal, something left unsaid, a question.
Whatever we use should force the reader to turn the page to find the answer and keep moving.
We want to hold their attention as long as possible because it’s hard to regain once lost.
Each scene should build upon the previous, giving the reader only enough to stay interested, but not enough they can say they know everything.
We need to string them along, so they’re dying to see how things turn out.
It Isn’t Structured Properly
The beginning sets the pace of the whole novel.
Slow beginnings give the impression the novel is long.
If the rest of the novel instead, speeds up, the reader will leave feeling cheated with the impression there should have been more.
The opposite is true for fast beginnings. If it starts quickly, the reader expects the entire story to be quick.
If it instead slows down, the reader will feel as if the story is all action and they barely know the characters or what’s going on.
The readers want a story, not background noise.
Which do you have the most problems with in your draft?