The Beginning, By Maria V. Snyder

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A reader asked me how to start a novel. It's a good question. You want to start your story at an exciting point - so you can hook the reader and don't let them go until the end ;> It's called in medias res (Latin for into the midst of things) - like the middle of the action.

Hooking the reader in the very first paragraph is essential. Can start in the middle of an action or conversation (everyone loves to read dialogue) and you don't have to explain everything about the character and situation...yet. But you need to present the reader with a bunch of story questions so they will read on to find the answers.

I started Poison Study with Yelena in the dungeon awaiting execution and the guards arrive and drag her out. The reader wants to know why she's there and what's going to happen - I fill in the background later (sometimes much later).

One of the things you can do is read a bunch of books that you liked and are in the same genre as your own writing (if you want to write a mystery - then read mystery books) and write down how other authors have started their stories - it will be a good guideline. You can also sit in the aisle of your local bookstore and go through ten to twenty books on the shelf (in your genre) and just read the first paragraphs - see which openings grab your interest and note why.

You don't want to start with an average day in the life...boring - Instead of starting with someone waking up and going through their day and then finding out they're fired on page 6 - Start with: "You're fired," my boss yelled loud enough for the entire office to hear." Later you can tell the reader why he was fired - but when they read that - they'll want to read more.

Decide which moment your character's life goes from everyday to something new / strange / exciting / scary. Where they're thrown into an unexpected situation or something goes wrong. That point is your starting point. Example: "The panel's lights flashed red and Fred knew the plane was going down over the Artic Sea."

There's a great writing book titled, Beginnings, Middles and Ends, by Nancy Kress that has lots of good advice - you might be able to find it at your local library, bookstore or online.

I think Dick Francis (mystery writer) has wonderful openings in his books. Here's one from his book, Rat Race: "I picked four of them up at White Waltham in the new Cherokee Six 300 that never got a chance to grow old. The pale blue upholstery still had a new leather smell and there wasn't a scratch on the glossy white fuselage. A nice little plane while it lasted."

Lots of story questions here! Who are the four people? What happened to the plane?
Dick doesn't tell you until Chapter 4!

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