I’m hosting a guest post today by Janet McNulty, the author of YA dystopian novel, “Liberty’s Torch”. I’ll leave the word now to Janet. She’ll talk about writing a good beginning.
As an author, I am sometimes asked how you create a good beginning. This can be rather troublesome, especially if you don’t know where to begin. The first paragraph of your book is the hook. It must grab your reader. If it doesn’t then they might put your book down and never pick it up again. Your reader especially needs to be captivated within the first two pages. That is all the patience people give an author to give them a compelling reason to continue reading. The sooner you engage your reader’s interest, the better. Think about it. Have you ever put a book down because you thought the first few pages were boring?
When I begin a novel, I always try to envision how it should begin. Action sequences are a great way to start a story, especially fantasy or science fiction. In my novel, Galdin, I begin the story with a rebellion. Enemy forces have invaded the castle, the king is dead, and now the queen must escape with her children or perish as well. My reader knows nothing about the cause of the rebellion, only that the main character’s life is suddenly in danger. But that is okay. The point of a beginning is to hook the reader. The details can come later. Though don’t wait too long to give the backstory because your audience will want to know.
Here is how I began Galdin.
Captain Dylan burst through the chamber doors. “We must leave, my lady,” he urged.
The sounds of battle echoed throughout the grounds. Betrayed. The king was dead. Killed by his most trusted general. Captain Dylan had an oath to fulfill. But it was more than that. To Captain Dylan, the king was like a brother. He viewed the king’s family as his own. This would be his final act of loyalty to his king.
In this short paragraph, the you know that a battle is taking place and everyone’s lives are in danger. There is a sense of urgency.
Now, not all stories need to begin with an action sequence. In my Mellow Summers Series I start out differently.
My name is Mellow Summers and I am twenty-six years old. I was never one to believe in ghosts, but all that changed the day I decided to attend a university up in Vermont. I don’t know why I wanted to go to Vermont considering that I hate the cold. I guess I just wanted to get away from my parents for a while who had made it their mission in life to tell me how to live. Anyway, like I said, I never believed in ghosts. That is not until I met Rachel.
So she never believed in ghosts. What made her change her mind? Who is Rachel? In this first paragraph you have the main character’s name and where she lives. You also have the gist of the story: who is Rachel and what did she do to change Mellow’s mind about the existence of ghosts?
Imagine if I had begun the story with “My name is Mellow Summers” and stopped right there. Would care about the character? Probably not. But add: the bit about how she never believed in ghosts until she moved to Vermont and met the mysterious Rachel and you have something completely different.
Consider how J.K. Rowling began Harry Potter. In the first few pages we meet Harry as an infant as he is left on the doorstep of his aunt and uncle’s house. We know that he is considered a hero in the wizarding world and that his parents are dead. But we are left with the question: what did this baby do to be considered a hero? And why does Dumbledore think Harry will be safer with his aunt and uncle who are obviously not part of this magical world of wizards and witches?
When writing the opening sequence to your story you need to answer two questions:
1. What is the story?
2. Why should we care?
In the first question, you set the tone for your book. After the first two paragraphs, you reader should know whether your book is an adventure story, fantasy, a mystery, or a romance; or a mixture.
Then, you have to make your reader care about your characters. You do this by getting them to unknowingly ask questions. In Harry Potter you want to know who he is and why he is called the boy who lived. With Mellow Summers you want to know Rachel is and how she got Mellow to change her mind about ghosts. With Galdin you want to know if Captain Dylan succeeds in saving the queen and her children.
Consider this beginning to my latest book, Liberty’s Torch.
Kenny listened to the raging crowd outside his window. The light in the room flickered for the fourth time. He lit an oil lamp not sure how long even that would last. All of their resources seemed to have disappeared.
Already you get the sense that a riot is taking place outside Kenny’s home. Why? Well, you have to read on to find out.
The number one way to know if you have a beginning is this: if it doesn’t engage you, the author, then it won’t engage your reader. Also, test your beginnings on your friends and family. They will let you know if you are onto something or not. You may end up writing the beginning of your story many times, but that’s to be expected. Just keep it simple, short, and mystifying.
About Liberty’s Torch
Author: Janet McNulty
Genre: YA Dystopian
All it takes is one spark to ignite the flame of liberty.
Six months have passed since Dana and Kenny parted. Forced to live as a wanderer, Dana discovers a crashed drone and learns of the chaos within Dystopia and what President Klens has planned for the resistance. Realizing that she must go back, Dana acquires the help of a seventy-year-old man and an old friend. Upon her return, she finds that rebellion is in the air as the government continues to eliminate dissenters.
Forced to disguise herself, Dana searches for the resistance to tell them of President Klens’ plans. After a few run-ins with the officers and narrow escapes from Colonel Fernau—his obsession with her growing each day—she learns that the people of Dystopia yearn to be free from their oppression. What they need is a leader. Knowing that everyone she cares for will never be safe so long as the government reigns supreme, Dana must decide how far she is willing to go achieve freedom.
Ms. McNulty began writing short stories at an early age. That passion continued through college until she published her first book: Legends Lost: Amborese under the pen name of Nova Rose. Since then she has gone on to publish a mystery series, children’s books, and even a dystopian series.
Recently, her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s causing her to visit her grandparent’s and record her grandfather’s memoirs before they become lost. The final result is Grandpa’s Stories: The 20th Century as My Grandfather Lived It. She did this to preserve her family history before it becomes lost.
Ms. McNulty currently lives in West Virginia where she enjoys hiking, being outside, crocheting, or simply sitting around and doing nothing. She continues writing. She is finishing up her dystopian series (the second book, Tempered Steel, is to be published in August 2013 and the final one, Liberty’s Torch, in November 2013).
Legends Lost Series: (Published under Nova Rose)
The Mellow Summers Series:
Sugar And Spice And Not So Nice
Frogs, Snails, And A Lot Of Wails
An Apple A Day Keeps Murder Away
Three Little Ghosts
Oh Holy Ghost
Where Trouble Roams
Two Ghosts Haunt A Grove
Trick Or Treat…Or Murder
Mr. Chili’s Chili
Mr. Chili Goes To School
Mr. Chili’s Halloween
Mr. Chili’s Christmas
The Hungry Washing Machine
Mrs. Duck And The Dragon
How Do You Catch An Alien
Are You The Monster Under The Bed?