Beginnings are tough for me, and for many writers, and I firmly believe that you’re either a beginning or end kind of writer; people always excel at one above the other. So for all you other “Can’t-get-it-started” writers out there I’ve got three pieces of advice. Three mistakes that I’ve made over, and over, and over before putting them to paper (or page) here so that you can learn from my hard experience. These three things are almost guaranteed to murder the potential of any novel before your reader gets through the front door!
One; Leading with Backstory
We’ve all made this mistake; there’s some nugget of the past that we are adamant the reader absolutely has to know in order to understand the protagonist, and therefore the story…
Well, actually, they don’t usually.
If you’re tempted to lead with backstory ask yourself this one, very important, question; is this information/event directly related to the story that is about to follow? If not, no matter how interesting it may be, drop it. If you want to keep a story progressing (and constant progression is one of the things which singles out truly gripping stories) tell the reader only what they need to know at any given time! That could mean going back to touch on events which pre-date the story, but include only what is necessary to story progression and character growth.
Two; Purple Prose
Excessive description is a silver bullet when it comes to killing a novel; effective novel description should enhance the readers experience of the story without overtaking it. If you begin with description make sure that this is paired with a character in motion; if the setting is really key make sure that you’re also beginning the story as you introduce the setting.
Description should always, always be incidental, attached directly to the progression of the story, and applied with caution; if you allow your descriptions to overpower the action and story you’re already on a path of steady decline. This used to be less of a hard and fast rule, but these days the fiction that gets published, and certainly the fiction that sells, tends, more often, to be to the point, lean, and athletic (for lack of a better term). That’s not to say description is obsolete, but you should definitely be making your description work for its bread and butter.
Three; Lack of Threat
Threat is an essential in every novel; good fiction revolves around a person or people who face a problem, a situation, or an event which threatens their world as they know it in some way. To paraphrase a well-worn statement; get your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them. Introduce your story with threat; this can be a disturbance to their usual routine, for example a police officer at the doo a la The Rose Petal Beach, or a blow to their psychological state, think that single drop of blood in Rose Madder. It doesn’t have to be brutal or overly dramatic, but it must shift the paradigm of the characters life in a way which requires their input/action or you’re starting from a sedentary point. All novels should begin with need, desire, or danger, e.g. something that poses a threat to the usual working of their lives.
This advice won’t see you through every stage of your novel, but it’ll get you through the first chapters and that’s a damn good start!
Image Source; http://pearlsofpromiseministries.com/why-does-god-allow-roadblocks/