“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 is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
“Call me Ishmael.”
All of the above are fantastic beginnings from classic novels. They create a tone that sets the rest of the story and grab readers’ attention.
The most important part of a piece is the beginning. If you don’t hook a reader in the beginning, he won’t read the rest of your writing.
You must be compelling.
What is compelling?
What isn’t compelling?
- Pointless chatter
Give your readers a reason to enter your world, and more importantly, to stay.
Also–begin by showing, not telling. Open with dialogue and action.
Don’t tell the reader what’s behind the door. Open the door and draw him in.
Do NOT. Start. Off. With. A. Physical. Appearance. Or. Name.
Because maybe you decide your protagonist’s name has to be Jonathan. But every single Jonathan you’ve ever known is short-tempered. Or maybe your antagonist has red hair. And every red-haired person you’ve ever met is generous. The generalizations you’ve built up will affect your characters.
Start, instead, by giving them a need or a problem. What does he or she want? Love, courage, confidence, a high school diploma? What does he or she want to avoid? Pain, humiliation, poverty, spiders? Many good plots involve the protagonist overcoming the thing he wants to avoid to gain the thing he wants most.
Make your character suffer. Instead of spraining his ankle, break it. Instead of having the evil stepmother give in and let Cinderella go to the ball at the last second, have her lock Cinderella in the attic and throw the key down a cliff.
Here are a list of questions you can use to develop a character: (male gender as default)
- What is the gender?
- What is the setting?
- Who is the enemy?
- Who helps the character with his problems?
- How did the character make the enemy?
- What is the one thing the character would do anything to avoid? How does he avoid it?
- What is the one thing the character would do anything to obtain? How does he obtain it?
- What is the name and physical description?
No two writers are the same. Suzanne Collins’ writing is different from J. K. Rowling’s. Twain’s pen is different from Austen’s.
What’s your writing style?
Here’s an exercise to discover it.
Find an excerpt of writing from an author you like. I would suggest narration or description. Try to mimic the sentence structure and voice.
Here’s an example:
From Tyra Banks’s Modelland:
You want to be there. You know you do. Don’t lie, dahling. It’s okay. I know what you’re thinking when you look up at that splendorous place atop the mountain.
Your worse fear is to be there. You know it is. Don’t deny it, dearie. It’s fine. Everyone knows what you’re scared of when you stare down into that gnarly pit drilled down in the sea.
Post your own paragraphs in the comments section once you’re done!
Reading gives you inspiration. Refraining from it is writing suicide–it will make your words bland.
How to Use Reading to Improve Your Writing
- Get into the habit of reading. Read often–I would suggest at least 30 minutes a day. Log your progress and give yourself rewards.
- Always carry a book with you. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it. Read on airplanes, long car trips, in the bathroom. Wherever.
- Read the great authors’ works. Shakespeare. Austen. Fitzgerald. Twain. They each have their distinct style. They will teach you something new.
- Analyze the plots, themes, characters. Why did the writer choose a certain twist? How did the writer flesh out the characters?
- Pay attention to the sentence structure, vocabulary words, and literary devices used. How do they enhance the story?
- Read way out of your genre. You write romance? Go read science fiction. There’s a lot you can learn from writers outside of your usual scope.
- Enjoy reading. Don’t just read to become a better writer. Read to enjoy it.