How do I write a good beginning for my book?

Buchanfang schreiben

Image: A good beginning for your book should start with a first sentence that pulls your readers in!

Do you know that moment? You are in your favourite book shop and open a book because the cover appealed to you. It is a spontaneous action. Of course, you go straight to the first page and read the first sentence, maybe even the whole first page – … and then immediately put the book aside again. The beginning of the book is boring and meaningless? It is a catastrophe if you reader had such thoughts when opening your new book… What can you do to immediately grab the readers’ attention on the first page of your own story? In the ideal case, it is your very first sentence that draws the readers in and tempts them to devour your book right on the spot.

This blog article will show you what you need to be aware of if you want to pull readers in right from the start by offering a great beginning that creates emotions and convinces readers that your book is the right choice for them.

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

  1. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  2. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

    J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937)

But what is the secret behind these sentences? They are very different from each other – even the length is different, however, each of them creates interest and makes people curious about what will happen next.

1 The beginning of your book: Structure your own story

Buchanfang richtig konzipieren

Image: Your first sentence does not have to be the first thing you write. First focus on creating a structure for your story.

If you plan your own text, you should not attack the first sentence first and spend an eternity on getting it right. As creative as you may be and as many ideas you might have: careful planning should be what comes first if you want to be a successful author. You can only focus on the creative writing work if you have a detailed plan for your story. The perfect beginning for your novel will come later. Before you start writing, you need a structure for your story – from the start to the end. Once that is done, you have a lot more time for creativity.


2 Introduce the setting and characters without firing all your bullets

You will present a part of your whole micro-universe to the reader on page one. Introduce the setting and the characters – in an entertaining, lively, and interesting way so that the reader immediately gets taken to the place of action and wants to learn more about the protagonist. During the introduction of characters, you create interest by keeping it short instead of going on and on about their traits, looks, ideas, etc.

You should not give everything away on the first page. Less is more. An exciting beginning thrives on gaps and some mystery. Focus on quirks, rough edges or even deficits of your characters to make your readers curious. It is important that you create a connection to the readers right from the start. Readers have to be able to walk in the characters’ shoes or at least find them inspiring or engaging. Before you start writing, ask yourself why that character in particular might interest your readers, i.e. what kind of connection there could be between the character and the reader, or which aspect of the character might be particularly interesting to the reader.

Don’t reveal everything about the character and the setting right away. Show your readers only as much as needed to create interest. Don’t use all your ammunition too soon.
 

3 Hint at the central conflict right at the start

Zentraler Konflikt im Buch

Image: The central conflict should always be hinted at as early as possible.

A good novel creates excitement right from the start by briefly hinting at the main conflict at the beginning of the book, preferably on the first page. This is how you grab your readers, pull them into the story and take them on a journey they don’t want to have interrupted! It works well if you can introduce a riddle, a secret or a problem that needs solving right from the start.

This works well for Tolkien, whose readers immediately want to know what a Hobbit is!

Readers should ask themselves questions about the plot, the characters, and/or the setting right away. If they have no questions, they will not be motivated to keep reading.

Turn your readers into detectives who want to find out the answers to the questions. Make them want to find out what happens – this is not only limited to mystery novels.

 

4 In media res – start right in the middle

Buchanfang Handlung einsteigen

Image: By beginning “in media res”, you can create excitement right from the start of your novel.

A good method to create excitement at the beginning of your novel is to begin “in media res”. This means that you do not gently lead your readers to the story by creating an arc of suspense. You will jump right into the action. Your readers won’t have time to breathe.

In the times of the internet, mobiles and so on, the attention span of readers is sadly not any longer the same as during the times of Shakespeare or even Tolkien. Readers can choose from a real flood of books and other activities these days. You need to convince them that your book is worth their attention right from the start, preferably on page one.

Set your hero on the path towards the tragedy or central conflict right from the start and expose him or her to a dramatic scene or action. This does not only challenge your protagonist but also the fantasy of your reader. You will then have your reader right where you want him or her: glued to the pages of your book.

5 Set the mood

Buchanfang Stimmung

Bild: Erschaffen Sie in Ihrem Roman eine Stimmung, aus der Ihre Leser nicht mehr auftauchen wollen.

If you don’t want your readers to even think about leaving the world of your book, you need to set the mood right from the first page. Create a mood that makes your readers want to read on. You can already set the mood with the first sentence if you do it right. You can create expectations, excitement, and feelings that immediately create a connection between the readers and the text. Think about what kind of mood you want to set and how you want to set it before you start writing. It is helpful to build a list with vocabulary and adjectives that can help to create a specific mood before you start writing.

 

6 Create emotions or sometimes even provoke

Emotions are the end-all and be-all for the first page of a book. Only when you readers are emotionally moved with the lecture of your book from the start, will you make sure that they will stick to reading it. Most people want to live in harmony and without conflict, but it is a different story when it comes to a good book. Harmony and peace aren’t exciting. There needs to be conflict and adventure. Don’t shy back from provoking your readers. They will appreciate being challenged and stimulated. This will keep them interested in your story. Why do you think the press talked so much about “Shades of Grey”? Maybe because reading this book provoked people and had many different opinions and views as a result.

 

7 Keep calm: Don’t despair because of your first sentence

Nicht am ersten Satz verzweifeln!

Image: Don’t be stressed by your first sentence. It will come to you while you are writing your book.

Of course, a genius, attention-grabbing first sentence will immediate glue your readers to the pages. But you mustn’t only rely on a great first sentence when it comes to the writing of your story. The first sentence can grab readers and motivate them to read on, but the rest of the novel is just as important. So don’t despair if you do not find the ideal first sentence right away. Don’t let the search for it run you right into a writer’s block! Don’t let the lack of the perfect first line stop you or cause you panic. Simply start writing and return to the beginning later on. It is often a lot easier to write the perfect beginning once the whole book is finished!

 

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