In this installment of A Cat’s Guide to Writing, we’re going to attempt to pick the female’s brains for all of her secrets. Since that icky gray mass has more than a few secrets, we’ll start with something rather important to writing a book: the beginning.
It doesn’t matter if you plot or write off the cuff. No matter what writing style you embrace, you need to start a story somewhere.
Knowing where to begin and how to create a compelling story hook is really important. After all, if you, the author, becomes bored with what you’re writing, there’s little to no chance a reader will care about the story, either.
So, this article will compile the female’s top tidbits of advice on how to start a story.
While we call these things rules, they’re really pieces of advice you may or may not wish to follow. Writing is an art, not a formula. If you write to a formula, readers will, after a few books, become resigned to the formula. Sure, formulas are great for binges and comfort reads, but the books begin to develop a rather cardboard texture… flat and generally bland.
Avoiding cardboard writing is a lecture for another day, so let’s get rolling on the tidbits of tasty writerly treats.
Oh, and for those of you tuning in for the first name, I am Zazzle the Beguiling Tyrant, named for my ruthless charming of the male.
This is me working very hard on the male at the shelter. I really wanted him to love me, but he was just standing there, becoming a bit melty. It took some convincing, but I brought him around. The female was a must easier conquest.
All I had to do to convince her was look sad and scared. Like this.
This was right after I got stolen from the shelter! Ruthless humans!
Okay. On to the tips.
1: Start your beginning as close to the ending as you possibly can.
However much exposition is fun (and sometimes necessary) to launch a world, the trick to writing a compelling opener involves starting your book at the critical tipping point. A plotline consists of many (moving) parts, and the beginning needs to be the absolute latest point you can contrive that links to your chosen ending of the book.
What happens at the beginning must link in to what happens at the end.
For the sake of demonstration, we’re going to use one of the female’s earliest books, Storm Without End, to demonstrate this. In Storm Without End, the book opens with the character having a fortunate mishap with some mud. This would normally not be a problem, but…
That line right there is how beginnings come to life. “This would normally not be a problem, but…“
Something that is not normal has sparked an event. In Kalen’s case, he lives in a desert canyon system.
Mud doesn’t really exist where he’s from. The sun bakes the ground so all they really have is a lot of dust and wind.
So something mundane has become something unusual, and a rather important problem, as the character is not supposed to leave his desert prison.
For good reason.
The female picked this starting point because the events immediately after are critical for the books development. The book also didn’t start earlier, because how the character got into this situation is that mystical hook.
It makes the reader ask questions.
Which leads me to the second tip…
2: The opening scene needs to make the reader ask questions.
Some questions need to be answered fairly soon. Who is this character? Why should the reader care about the character? Practice at writing will help authors become better at posing this questions in the narrative. But if you explain everything to the reader, there will be no sense of wonder.
You want readers to have that sense of wonder when you’re writing a book. But you also need to have enough answers to keep the reader wanting to chase down the answers to more questions.
That said, you need to give the reader enough of a foundation so they can follow along.
Most people won’t care if you just dump a reader into an action scene. Action scenes can be a fun way to start a book, but for the first few paragraphs, why should the reader care if a character is hanging by their nails from a cliff?
Unfortunately, they just won’t. You have to give them reasons to care.
So, that leads to the next tip.
3: Focus on forging a connection with the reader.
This part is hard. It requires a firm understanding of how people tick. What makes somebody care about another human?
Usually, it involves a relatable situation.
A mother who is fighting to protect her child will win the sympathies of other mothers who would fight to protect her child. A character fighting cancer will win the sympathies of cancer fighters and survivors as well as their families. (But this sort of plot line/element will hurt. It’s one of those painful sympathies, so use with caution.)
It takes finesse to write any of these situations well and create that sense of companionship, which is often a core for why people want to read about the same characters over and over. They care.
That’s what you’re aiming for. You need to make the reader care in your opening pages.
And sometimes, making a reader care is lighting the Devil’s house on fire just to watch it burn. A different sort of satisfaction, to say the least.
4: Balance intrigue with action.
Action alone is boring. Intrigue alone is often boring. Ideally, you’ll blend both. This once again ties with making the reader care about the character and the situation.
5: Show, do not tell.
We of the Furred & Frond Management will be writing an entire article about how to show rather than tell, but we will give you a very brief example.
Telling: Bob didn’t really give a shit about antique tables.
Showing: Several coasters waited on the edge of the worn, old surface of a coffee table that’d somehow escaped a legacy of mug rings, out of Bob’s reach. He considered moving to the other side of the sedan, grunted at the effort he’d have to invest, and placed the steaming mug on one of the paler spots, where the veneer had worn away over decades of use.
What was one little ring?
Showing takes a lot more than telling, but you present a better story when you take the time to show the character’s thought process. In this case, you can infer Bob has the capacity of caring but not the mental fortitude to follow through when it involves him having to invest any effort.
Not the kind of person you want to bring to your house if you have an antique coffee table, to say the least…
The whole point of showing is to infer facts about the character.
You can judge a lot about a character from the choices they make, and showing is the art of communicating those things… without just saying “Bob didn’t really give a shit about antique coffee tables.”
That said, telling is a tool that authors should use to convey important information without spending twenty pages to show it. Sometimes, one told sentence is worth its weight in gold.
But showing is how you truly engage a reader.
Show your introductions to a story, don’t tell them. While the art is called storytelling, the idea is to show the story rather than tell it.
Our recommendation is to start here. Give the character a problem to solve, and go. Just make sure the problem the character solve somehow links to the ending of the book. That matters.
Happy reading (and writing) folks!