The article is straightforward (as always) and helpful (which is always great).
In your opening scene you should do three things:
Orientate the reader: Get your reader orientated quickly. Tell us where we are and what is going on. You can be ambiguous, but do not confuse us.
Introduce the characters: Who is there? Introduce your protagonist as soon as possible. I want to know what is happening, but most of all I want to know to whom it is happening.
Show the relevance: Once I know where I am and what is going on you have to keep me interested. You have to make me ask questions.
These probably seem obvious but no less helpful to the newbie writer. I do tend to have trouble with these three, and not in any particular order. There are times when I’d like to open my story in an obscure way that slowly but steadily and enticingly leads into the crux of the whole issue to be tossed (characters and reader) into and then resolved.
Like, instead of using a prologue, I will start off with a memory piece triggered by some current event that will explain without too much need for detail about what is going to happen as the reader turns each page. More times than not, though, I will add back story as the story rolls along; that way the reader just keeps reading without the need for all things revealed attitude cropping up far too soon in the novel.
The introduction of characters seems like a logical start as well, but not always. I’ve read too many great novels in which the entire first chapter (or three) is devoted to just one character, giving background that helps explain his/her personality and/or reasons for behaving the way they do throughout the story. I don’t mind reading books that do this, and I don’t have a problem doing it in my own work.
The last point is probably the most tricky for a writer to achieve without thinking about it too much. It means having to go back and read what you just wrote to check for things like consistency, flow, and yes, it makes perfect sense to me why that happened.
Five things you should not include at the beginning:
Back story: You have to weave this in as the story progresses. It is very important to know the details, but it is more important to know what to leave out and where to use it.
Flashbacks: This is basically back story. Save it for later and use it only if it is really important.
Description: Weather, long descriptive passages.
Prologues: Most of the time you do not need a prologue. It must not detract from your opening scene in any way. It can be used to bridge a time gap or if it is a document that is related to the story or if you use a viewpoint that isn’t used again.
Whatever you do don’t start at the beginning.
Not sure what that last point means, and aside from flashbacks, I’m good with the rest. I see nothing wrong with starting chapter one in a by-gone era and then starting chapter two (or the second half of chapter 1) in the present. Again, I like stories where a main character is doing their job, driving down a road, or walking along when something occurs to trigger a memory and that memory is then explained to the reader — and yes, as long as the memory isn’t 5 paragraphs of vivid detail. A few sentences of thought dialogue seem like plenty.
Also, I still don’t get the big deal and whining about the use of prologue. My thinking is that it might seem unnecessary or like added words strung together prior to getting to the point in Chapter One, which is a younger generation complaint imho. The ingrained need to have everything happen like magic and right this minute instead of just taking a deep breath, exhaling slowly, and then relaxing enough to actually enjoy the moment(s) even if it might take a few hours or even days to complete.
What no one ever mentions about prologue is that those who chose not to read it probably go back at some point, or after reading the last chapter, and read the prologue. Somewhere along the way that bit of writing is going to come in handy, and regardless of where the reader thinks or wants it put into the story itself, a prologue is written with purpose and serves to aid the reader in story understanding and enjoyment.
There are lots of different ways to begin your novel, and there are just as many readers who prefer one way over another, too. It’s a coin toss, which means it’s up to us to write in a familiar, comfortable, and knowledgeable style and stay consistent as we go.
Does any of this matter to you as a writer, and do you have a set way of beginning your stories? If you agree with anything, please let me know, and as always, thanks for dropping in 😀