Thursday, December 15, 2011
A few months ago, Steph wrote about Endings, and how they can make or break a novel. Today let’s talk Beginnings. 

Some novels seem to hook readers from the first sentence while others take a little longer to settle into. There are readers who will overlook a slower beginning if they are intrigued enough by the concept, but this isn’t the case for everyone. Like everything in fiction, beginnings are subjective. 

New writers hear all the taboos: "Don’t start your book with the protagonist waking up, or with someone dying. Don’t directly address the reader, don’t describe the weather, and don’t begin your novel with a dream." All sound advice. But what about the oft-cited tip: "Start your book with action, action, action"? Is that really what readers want every time?

Action from the get-go can be great. Especially if it's not overblown. And if the writer has made you care enough about the protagonist. But there is something to be said for getting to know the characters before they start battling dragons. My favorite beginnings are full of voice -- they explain who the main character is and what he/she cares about, and they hint at the action to come.

One of the best things about fiction is its variety. Amy Reed begins BEAUTIFUL with the protagonist describing a slice of pizza while we hear her internal thoughts about her new school. Sarah Ockler’s TWENTY BOY SUMMER begins with a short first chapter that shows the narrator survived something that forever changed her life. And Sarah Dessen’s JUST LISTEN hooks you by explaining that the protagonist filmed a TV commercial months ago that is now being aired all over town -- when all she wants is to hide. These three beginnings hooked me right away. Though they are all crafted differently, they're equally compelling.


What are some of your favorite beginnings? How important is that first page, or paragraph? Know of any fabulous books that successfully broke the "rules"?

Happy Reading, 
IP

5 comments:

sarahwedgbrow said...

I must say, Beginnings have to do a lot of work and make it seem easy. They're my favorite part. And then to see the journey taken, I like to go back and reread. Great post, Miss Ingrid!!

Carrie said...

I always say I hate prologues. And then someone goes and knocks it out of the park with their prologue and I have to put an asterisk by it. I love Melissa Marr's prologue in Wicked Lovely. And Maggie Stiefvater's in The Scorpio Races.

But mostly, I don't care if a book starts with action. I want it to start with a voice that I would follow.

Patricia's Particularity said...

Great post! You know I love all kinds of beginnings. I think when authors start with "action" they can create a dilema for themselves in the sense that they have a lot to live up to throughout the rest of book. I mean how disappointing would it be if they started with an amazing action scene but the rest of the book was dull? No good. I really prefer character development over action - I love feeling connected to the characters on a personal level.

<3 Patricia @ Patricia's Particularity

Ingrid said...

Sarah- Yes, beginnings have an important job to do. I think that's why they trip up so many new writers. Hm, I think I'm going to start going back to reread the beginnings after I finish books-- good idea!

Carrie- Agreed. The voice is key. And I'll be checking out those prologues, thanks!

Patricia- Interesting comment, and very true. If all the action happens up front, where do you go from there?

Mary @ BookSwarm said...

Gah! There are so many "rules" when writing beginnings (and, in the end, the writer really just has to do what works for the book). But, as a reader, I don't like to be thrown into the action. I don't mind prologues, when done well. I like knowing some backstory and being introduced to the characters I'm supposed to care about. I particularly like funny beginnings. Unfortunately, I haven't had my morning tea, so I have no solid examples...useless! :)

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.


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