Writing The Opening

For me, the hardest part of a book to write is the opening. I’ve probably written the beginning of my book ten times by now, and I’m still not sure I’ve got it right. I know exactly what has to happen, but I keep changing how it happens (if that makes any sense).

We’ve all heard that you need to hook your audience with the first pages if you want them to keep reading your book.  But how do you do this?

I believe the best openings accomplish a number of things in the first few pages:

  • Establish Voice and Tone: Your opening must show your voice (or your character’s voice, if writing in first person) and must set the tone of the novel. Is it a comedy or a thriller? Is your character sweet or snarky?
  • Introduce Main Character: The first page, even the first paragraph, must introduce us to the main character. What does she want? What problems does she have?
  • Introduce Other Characters: You probably need to introduce at least one other character, but don’t go over the top. Stick to only the characters involved in the inciting incident for now.
  • Begin the Inciting Incident: What happens to change your main character’s status quo and start the story? This needs to happen as soon as possible in your opening, otherwise why start the book there?
  • Show Genre: Like the inciting incident, the earlier the genre is introduced the better. If you’re writing anything with fantasy, paranormal, or sci-fi elements we need to see that early on. No one wants to be twenty pages in and then realize the book is actually sci-fi, not contemporary.
  • Introduce Setting: The setting in the first pages can help with all of the above factors. Consider the difference between opening with a girl in the library hiding from an ex versus a girl on a space ship trying to fix the warp drive. We immediately know something about the genre and the main character just from where she is and what she is doing there.

Even once you’ve got all of the above figured out, writing the first pages can still be intimidating. If you’re like me, you become crippled with fear that you will do a bad job with the opening and then no one will ever want to read your book. So how do you overcome this fear, and write an opening that includes all the above points?

My suggestion is to rewrite your opening as many times as you need to. Put your main character in different locations and have the inciting incident occur in different ways, or with different characters. Think of it as freewriting and let yourself make mistakes and try new things. Play around with your opening, and don’t worry about writing something that will just get thrown out. You never know what you might discover about your characters or your book this way.

And if you’re really stuck, try moving on to the second chapter. You can always come back to the opening pages and fix them later, and maybe you’ll know what to do once you get further into the book.

How do you feel about first pages? If you have any tips or strategies, let me know!