How do you determine the best place to begin your story? Where should it start? Does the action start with the main character walking down the sidewalk toward a coffee shop, as he steps through the door, or after he's inside? Will the reader see the crisis develop through the character's eyes, or will the reader meet the character when he is already dealing with the end results of that crisis? Should the story begin with the main character or someone/thing else?
There is nothing more important than the opening paragraph. If the writer doesn't immediately grab the reader's attention with a powerful beginning, he or she will just as quickly lose the reader. For every story there is a back story and for me it is imperative to understand every detail of it (or close to it) in order to understand the character's motivation. It's what gives the story purpose, but sometimes the back story gets in the way or is mistaken for the true beginning. The reader doesn't need every detail of the back story, only the essence of what has led the character to the present time - the true beginning.
Another opening killer is description and imagery. I'm not saying these two elements aren't essential - they are, however, there needs to be a good balance between imagery and action which is what makes the reader turn the page. As an example, a while back a fellow writer asked if I would critique the first few chapters of her manuscript. She felt there was something wrong with it but couldn't put her finger on it. It was well written, well paced, had good characterization, no typos, etc. It was perfect except that there was nothing in her opening that pulled me in and urged me to keep reading. Why?
Because her opening paragraph was in the bottom third of the second page.
Everything prior to that paragraph was a telling account of place and time. Once she deleted the excess passages and did some tweaking, her story took off with a strong beginning. A good beginning isn't always the easiest thing to determine. I lost count of how many beginnings I wrote for SILENCED CRY. I ultimately decided the best one placed Homicide Detective Sam Harper in Dr Brannon's office, the police department psychologists, and allowed the back story to emerge through the session; his thoughts and reactions to her questions. Is mine the perfect beginning? That's not for me to say, but it seemed to solve several issues I wanted to address without writing an entire chapter on each.
The Harper/Brannon session opening gives the reader insight into Harper's relationship with his late partner, Frank Gillis, it gives the reader an overview of the events that have led Harper to the psychiatric session, it raises questions to keep the reader reading, it allows Harper to tap into his emotions (something he wouldn't normally reveal), and it helps explain the motivation that carries Harper throughout the book. To have done it any other way would have required writing an entirely new, lengthy subplot that would have dragged the story and distracted the reader from the plot.
Decide for yourself and let me know what you think. You'll find the first chapter of SILECED CRY on my website at: http://www.martastephens-author.com/chapter_1.html.
So my question is: How do you determine the best point in time or moment in your character's life to start your story?
SILENCED CRY, won "August Cover of the Month." It's now in competition with eleven other covers from 2007 for "Cover of the Year." I'd much appreicate your vote! Voting ends on April 15 on the Erin Aislinn site.
Autographed copies are available from my website.