Once upon a time, is a great way to start a story, if that’s the feel that you’re going for. The beginning of a story is when you tell the reader what to expect, and capture their interest. Most readers decide if the book is interesting enough to bother reading before the third page. So the beginning of every story has to have a few essential things. Hook, setup, and foreshadowing.
Beginning the story with a hook is what gives the reader a reason to keep reading. A few things need to happen for this, first there needs to be a likable or relatable character of some form that causes the reader to care about. Next, something has to happen that likely suggests a risk to the mentioned character.
Imagine a young sapling stretching into his patch of sunshine. And on the other side of the forest is a lumber jack with an axe over his shoulder, passing plenty of tall, beautiful trees. Who do you root for? the sapling or the lumber jack? What’s going to happen when they meet? A hook is about presenting a problem, but the potential outcome has to be interesting enough to the reader to keep them reading.
A setup is like the first half a joke, giving you a reference point to understand the punch line. By setting the scene in the beginning of the story, you are giving a reference point and clear expectations for the reader. No one wants to realize that the medieval story is actually contemporary when someone whips out a cell phone half way through the first chapter.
The beginning sets the expectations and pulls the reader into the story. Getting good bearings of where you are allows you to feel comfortable. With the setting, time period, and the main character’s norm established, the story is ready to start. A good setup means the reader won’t be so surprised or confused that they have to reread or put the book down.
This part is more for the revision portion of writing, because you don’t always know what is needed to foreshadow what will happen later in the book. However, the reason this is important is that if you have clues to the ending, the reader will be satisfied and feel like the story really is complete and ended the way it should have. A polishing element, but definitely belongs in the beginning.
Beginning a story with foreshadowing is a great way to express the coming potential of the story on a smaller scale. This not only helps the story feel complete, but it makes the reader cling to all of the details, adding excitement and invested interest in your writing. And of course, adding the foreshadowing details makes the beginning of a story more in-depth.
Begin Some Stories
Now that you have a few things to keep in mind, go start a new story. You may also want to look at some first line suggestions. Or take a look at some prompts to get you started on a new idea. Keep in mind that beginnings will change a hundred times, the important part is that you get through it and on to the story, and come back to revise it later.