Beginnings are the bane of authors, it seems. They have to be Just Right™ or they will get your manuscript rejected. Or so the story goes.
Ngl, I hate it here. There’s few things I love writing as much as beginnings. It’s an enchanted moment, sacred, when I get to dip a new reader into my worlds. Yes, sometimes it is fun to dunk them head-first into the sea of sparkle but usually I want them to feel the same sense of wonder I did when I found/created/explored this world.
For me, starting a book is like opening a door. And there are few times when I want to topple and drown immediately after. Or duck out of the line of fire. I want a sense of my surroundings first. And yes, sometimes diving into the sea of glitter is great. Also, it gets boring after a while.
By now I know beginnings, how they are supposed to look and work and I hate it. Like actively NOPE. It is customary to start with some small action, something to set the scene while drawing the reader right in and also, get the plot rolling.
The number of books I start where I know that whatever the protag is about to embark on will fail is atrocious. I do not want to see my protgas fail. Truth be told, I absolutely LOVE it when the first thing goes right and that is the reason the rest of the book goes down. Chef’s kiss.
There are lists of ways how you do NOT start a book. I read them and I shake my head because, nope, I see nothing wrong there. I like beginnings that start with somebody coming to or running away. It complements my feeling of stepping into a new world. I can slip into it slowly and get to know its wonders.
I also like people running, because usually they run away from something which can tell you so much. 🥺
So, what am I supposed to do? Action.
And yes, many people interpret that as ACTION!action. Like, shooting, fighting, explosions. I find that dull and distracting. I don’t care about any of this yet. Yes, you can signal clearly who the correct side to root for is. No, it won’t work because I’m naturally suspicious about it.
If you wonder why I will not believe you, please confer with my Show vs Tell blog post.
What do I consider successful beginnings? (Not considering prologues here)
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie. Two people ride into a city. Impending doom has not happened yet.
The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah. A magic merchant and her companion complete a deal and everything goes well.
Cambion’s Law by Erin Fulmer – The protag outs herself as half-demon getting coffee and goes for a jog where she stumbles over the plot.
Finna by Nino Cipri – The protag arrives at work to cover a shift and hates every second of it.
The prologue of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is the kind of beginning I mean. It starts, there’s fighting. Do I care? Nope. To this day I am very sorry for the poor Hunduns. 🤷♂️
I think what is important for me in a beginning is to get a feeling of my new friends, their world and the story I can expect ahead. If you start with fighting, that’s what I will expect: fighting. If you start with characters, I will expect character development on the grounds of things happening. If you have a lot of descriptions (side-eyeing you, Gideon the Ninth) I expect many more descriptions.
Personally, I want to go gently into my new world. I want to get invested. And if I am getting dunked in a sea of glitter, I at least want to know that the details of this romp are irrelevant for what is coming.
2 thoughts on “Ready – Set – Action!”
Thank you for the shout out, I am honored 🥺🥺🥺
I like beginnings where something happens that is intriguing, but not big on battles. Maybe that’s why I still haven’t managed to get through the beginning of Iron Widow.
Obviously I like openings where someone is running/running away 😅
I think you’re bang on target with the point about beginnings setting up expectations. Hugely important to set the tone ASAP. I think a lot of beginnings I read in sub packages miss on genre expectations/tone.
You are a Very Good™ writer.
Yes! I only started Iron Widow because I tend to discard prologues I don’t like as commentary.
I really don’t understand why so many things writers do automatically are (supposedly) so bad. 🤷♂️
Setting expectations for sure. Not so sure I care about genre expectations. If it reads like a Noire even if it’s fantasy, it’s not for me because I don’t like the tone of Noire even though I LOVE fantasy. So, if the beginning is heavy with descriptions, that is not for me. (Yes, I do wonder how I fell in love with LotR so completely age 14. 😂)