You Have to Start Somewhere
Beginnings are tough. Especially in fantasy. Not only do you have to introduce characters, setting, structure, and narrative, but in many cases, you have to build a whole new world from scratch that no one has seen before. With so many pieces to juggle, your plot can easily get lost in the details.
So how should you start your story? Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, of if you prefer to write your beginning chapters first or last, here are some pointers to help get those creative juices flowing:
Use the Familiar:
Some classic approaches to fantasy beginnings include:
The Prologue/Preview: There’s no shame in a classic fleshed out prologue or one-page preview. These can be effective tools, allowing you to provide a taste of your world, history, background, and rules. You can even use this format to deceive your reader and give them a false version of events, building up to the truth later.
Before the Storm: Open with an idyllic scene where everything seems perfect. Then, unleash the storm, forcing your characters to suffer tragedy after tragedy.
In the Middle: Throw the reader straight into the middle of a conflict, whether physical, emotional, or both. Some classic “In the Middle” openers include things like chase scenes, battles, action set-pieces, or emotional climaxes.
The Aftermath: Start by showing your character suffering from the consequences of a dramatic event. Then either travel back in time to tell the story up to this point, or move forward, showing how the character will overcome their circumstances.
Winds of Change: Begin with a character living life in monotonous or miserable circumstances, then introduce a plot device that brings the character much-needed change or hope.
Craft Your Tone:
How do you want the reader to feel at the start of your story? Excited? Anxious? Sad? Whimsical? Focus on the tone you’re going for and let everything (from the setting to the characters, to the very mood of your piece) emulate this specific emotion and voice. Don’t tell your audience that things are bad or that they should feel miserable, show them how terrible things are and make them feel misery. One of the easiest ways to craft tone is to determine your starting point, then decide whether you want the emotional tone of the narrative to rise or fall.
Two of the classic styles of tonal direction include:
The Comedy: where the story, setting, and characters start in tragic conditions, then things take a turn for the better.
The Tragedy: where the story, setting, and characters start in ideal conditions, then things take a turn for the worse.
Set the Pace
Creating a narrative that has a steady, but exciting pace can be incredibly difficult. Here are a few points to help you maintain momentum:
Keep Tension High: No matter how you choose to end your first few chapters, always make sure something is left unresolved. If you character has something they desire, prevent them from gaining it. If the plot has a goal to achieve, make it fail. Build up the challenges for the protagonist to overcome at the beginning, that way when they finally achieve their goals at the end, the pay-off will satisfy your readers.
Create a Chain-Reaction or Domino Effect: For this, make sure that plot devices, characters, story beats, and events have a noticeable impact from chapter to chapter. Weave together a sense of continuity. Create a snowball effect, where the plot points you introduce begin to build on top of each other, resulting in even greater consequences with each new chapter. This will maintain your momentum as you work your way up to your central conflict and climax.
Trim the Fat: If the scene is not essential to the plot or to the individual character arcs, cut it. If there is description or information repeated several times, cut it. If you can convey the same sentence or paragraph in a more concise manner, then trim it down. This is one of the most difficult things to do, but it will ultimately streamline your plot and prevent the story from dragging.
Limit Flashbacks: Unless your narrative is built on traveling back and forth to different points in the story’s timeline, reduce the number of flashbacks and backstory. Large chunks of backstory can interrupt the present narrative, slowing down the present story line to a crawl. Instead, strive to show information from the past in the present, so that the timeline continues along a linear path that keeps your reader engaged and moving forward.
Find Your Voice
Express yourself. Dig down deep and uncover the most raw essence of your emotions, thoughts, experiences. Throw in all your favorite vocabulary words. Personalize each character so they pop off the page. Bring in as much of your personality to the narrative as possible. Because your voice will ring louder and truer than any trope or classic theme.
Write, Write, Write
And when in doubt, just write. Even if it’s the most cliché writing in the world. Even if the words make you want to cry, write it down. You can also go back later to polish and refine. But you can’t perfect what isn’t written. Even if all you have to start with is “Once upon a time,” go for it. After all, you have to start somewhere. So, what are you waiting for? Go forth and let your own story begin!