lynx_child's picture
lynx_child from Seattle is reading The Dresden Files series October 9, 2011 - 4:44pm

I'm having a ton of trouble with the first chapter of my novel.  And I know it's best to just get something down on paper and fix it later, but when I don't like the first chapter I feel like I've, well, got this anchor dragging along the seabed holding me back and I just can't move forward with confidence.

So, to you, what makes a good opening?  What do you try to do when opening a novel?  What's your advice to someone like me who's stuck?

.'s picture
. October 9, 2011 - 5:17pm

Well a good hook to grab the reader is always something. Chuck Palahniuk's early stuff always opened with an action. Don't open with a thesis statement though. The best thing to do is to just WRITE. Don't get to stuck on the beginning, you can always go back and write an introduction. I work best when I start in the middle of the story, the chapter, etc. Here is the opening of my novel in progress, hopefully this will give you an idea.

 

Here is my magnum opus written on a roll of toilet paper. The greatest article of my short career.
“Jesus would have shot up too if he lived in this city.” This is what my cell mate with his bald head and Swastika tattoos tells me with his hand lodged in his ass. I couldn’t agree more but hearing him say it out loud makes me loathe him. Cold sweats accompany delirium; accompany a trillion needles stabbing every inch of my body. Never did I think I would be writing my masterpiece in the midst of heroin withdrawals in a tiny jail cell.
missesdash's picture
missesdash from Paris is reading The Informers October 9, 2011 - 5:22pm

I agree about starting with action.

Just start where your story starts. And remember that a good first line could only be the first line of your book. Avoid "I open my eyes" and similar cliches. Avoid describing the sky or the weather. Avoid a nameless person running through the woods or dialog that makes no sense out of context. No gimmicks, but it should still hook.

Just some thoughts.

lynx_child's picture
lynx_child from Seattle is reading The Dresden Files series October 9, 2011 - 5:47pm

Well a good hook to grab the reader is always something.

True, though that's not always easy.  Your opening is a good example; it's a completely different genre than mine but I like what you've accomplished.

 

Just start where your story starts.

For me, I know where it starts but not how it starts, if that makes sense.  It starts with a boy entering (having recently entered) a city, but there are so many different ways to approach that.  Those are great pieces of advice, though, and I'll keep them in mind.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 9, 2011 - 6:12pm

Maybe your best first line is somewhere in your first chapter. It's usually where I find mine. After getting a few pages down, the best first line is usually on the second page somewhere. Can't explain how I recognize it, just feels like the right balance of hook, suggestion and WTH.

what genre is your story? that might help to determine the tone of your opening.

lynx_child's picture
lynx_child from Seattle is reading The Dresden Files series October 9, 2011 - 6:42pm

Fantasy.  Kind of a mix between low and high fantasy.  A boy from a posh background gets caught up with peace activists trying to prevent a war.  At the beginning of the book he's entering (or has just entered) a city where he's trying to start a new life after being thrown out of his house.

 

After getting a few pages down, the best first line is usually on the second page somewhere.

That's a great suggestion, thanks :)

Ben's picture
Ben from Australia is reading My Booky Wook by Russell Brand October 10, 2011 - 4:52am

Check out this page:
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/09/250-chances.html

It proved very useful to me in finalising the start of my novel - which, by the way, took MANY false starts.  Action is a common way to start, but I find it difficult.  For me, I need to build up to an action scene; I can't just start there.  The other problem with action, at least as far as I'm concerned, is that it can run risk of being cliched as it is so common; however, as mentioned above, people like Chuck do it very well, so it's not always a bad thing (and indeed it's one of the principles suggested on the page I linked you to).

Overall, what it all comes down to is emotional appeal.  You have to engage with the audience emotionally and draw them in.  Action is good for this, but so is outlining a problem that needs to be solved (as shown in the link).  If you can leave your reader wanting more, wondering what happens next, then you're done.  I set up a dilemma in my novel: the protagonist is going to try to do something he's failed at before.  Of course, context is everything here, but it can be something that simple.

Don't start with a character's history, though.  The audience needs to care about a character before you can do that.  Just don't try too hard as it will be bleedingly obvious - let it come out naturally.

Best of luck with it!!

lynx_child's picture
lynx_child from Seattle is reading The Dresden Files series October 10, 2011 - 12:13pm

@Ben: Thank you!  That was extremely helpful.