Deciding where to start your story is probably one of the hardest decisions you will have to make because the first pages, if not lines, of your story will decide its outcome. If you can’t get the reader interested straight away you will lose that reader forever (and that reader just might be a publisher or literary agent). So, however you decide to start the story make sure it gets moving quickly, draw the reader in and make sure they want to find out what happens next.
The first page of any manuscript is vitally important. Think about it, when you choose a book what do you do? Pick the book up, turn to the first page and read the first few lines? How often have you judged a book in this way? Now, you must remember that other people will judge your book in the same way. So, make those first few lines count. Make the reader want to walk up to the counter, buy the book and take it home to read it to find out more.
Here are some basic situations that have been used to open well-known novels:
- An important event occurs, introducing the main character, which brings about a major change in his or her life.
- The main character is involved in some major moral issue, suddenly being drawn into a injust, perilous or racist situation.
- The main character is struggling with real life issues yet eventually finds a way to overcome all the odd to make it to fame and fortune.
The opening of your novel should also set the scene, whether that be romance, horror, fantasy, humor or thriller. By the time the reader finishes the end of the first chapter, they should know who the main character is, what genre the book has been written in, from whose point of view the story has been told and the approximate time period the story happened.
Your best research would be to grab several well-known published novels, turn to the first page and ask yourself the following questions:
- Did the story grab you from the start? Why?
- Was it a classic beginning or something new and unique?
- Was it easy to read or did the author use big, long words?
- Was the beginning so intiguing that you just had to read on?
- Did most of the novels start in a similar fashion?
- Was there lots of description or did it get straight into the action?
Now, turn to your manuscript and make similiar notes. How does your story compare?
Almost as important as the beginning of your story, is the ending. You don’t want to be remembered as a “one hit wonder”, do you? So your ending must leave the reader feeling satisfied. If the reader is disappointed they won’t rush out to find another novel with your name on the spine and I’m sure that, as a writer, you will want to see more than one book published.
Your readers expect to put a book down with a feeling that all the plots and subplots were dealt with fully and that the main character achieved their goal. This isn’t to say that your ending shouldn’t end with a big twist in the storyline but it should end with an explanation that is acceptable to the reader. They should put the book down on an emotional high, even if they can’t see from crying, the ending should be something that stays with them for a while.
If someone walked up to you and said, “I simply loved this book and it made me cry my eyes out” or “I couldn’t stop laughing, it was so funny” or “It made me feel all funny inside”. Your reaction would probably be, “Why?” Why did that person cry? Why did that person love the book? Why was that person stunned? Why was that person feeling so happy? I just have to find out… and, what do you do… you read the book.