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Openings

This article talks about how to open a story. 

Generally a story will not begin at the beginning, instead it will start somewhere in the middle (in media res).

Exposition = the necessary explanations that are needed to understand what is going on now. Because it is telling and not showing, exposition is much less dramatic than a scene. Exposition can quickly turn into explanation and explanation is not action. Nothing happens – the reader gets bored. Therefore the beginning must be as free of exposition as possible.

The norm should not be described in the beginning. The action must start first and later on you must back up and demonstrate the normal.

To demonstrate or create the norm, the author can use a character. The reader will identify with this character as the norm and will judge the main character as a contrast to the norm. Establishing a norm is not necessarily needed. If it can be avoided, so be it. It is much better to start in media res rather than by defining a norm.

Every effective beginning must achieve three things:

  1. get the story going and show what kind of story it is going to be
  2. introduce and characterize the protagonist
  3. engage the reader’s interest to read on

The best and easiest way to achieve all these three in the same time is to start with a scene. A scene that shows what is going on and the character in the same time. During the scene think what the character might be doing with little or no explanation which will allow the reader to establish what kind of person he or she is.

Another tool to use are props and settings. Give characters objects that they can use and make them meaningfull. The object is a very useful object and can give a lot of weight to the beginning of the story. Make the objects a part of the action, link various states to them which will later on be remembered by the reader when the object reappears.

Description should not be used in beginnings. It should be limited to almost nothing. You should limit to describing only what is absolutely necessary and vital for the story. Most authors don’t even describe their characters. They guide the reader’s imagination through their actions, objects and things that they do.

A beginning might be very powerful, a “volcano”. However, such openings are hard to follow. The readers’ expectation is already too high and falling back from such a power start might disappoing the reader. The beginning of the story is a promise to the reader, a promise about what is going to happen next. You must be able to keep this promise.

A better type of start is a revealing opening. A simpler and direct opening, free of description, explanation and hype, something that the reader can understand immediately by just “watching”.

Using scenes as openings is not mandatory, but it is the easiest and most economical way. Very well suited for beginning writers.

The beginning must be revised later on, not immediately after it was completed.

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