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On beginnings

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I was wondering what sort of beginnings you guys like to both read and write. Stories, fanfiction--either or in this case. Do you think it's better to ease a reader in with setting description or to drop them in the middle of some action? Doese the genre or theme of the work overall vary the answer?

​I'm asking because I've been having problems myself over how to best start some of my stuff, both original and fanfiction. Even when I have outlines set up, I get indecisive and worry too much over the best way to hook the reader right away. As far as reading I tend to go at least five paragraphs and then decide whether or not to keep reading, but I have this memory when I was little of being told that a publisher and most readers will only bother with the first line or the first paragraph. Ergo my anxious need to be able to hook a reader right away.



​I know that that genre and theme should affect how a story starts, but sometimes it can really vary. Take horror for example: Lovecraft always starts in a subtle way. He either starts cryptic or descriptive of the setting and eases into nitty gritty stuff. But then most modern horror novels and fanfics I find, and even for what I've done, they do the best when they start off in the midst of some problem. I once started a fic, not to advertise, by having the protagonist block a chair being hurled at her with a broom. (That's an example of what I meant by being dropped right into the action. Show and not tell and all that jazz.) Same genres here, horror, but very different starts even when the stories end up being similar in theme (meaning/moral) and the end goal (horrific deaths in this example). So even if it sounds right to me that a genre should dictate a lot of the format like the beginning, it doesn't seem to actually be the case.




And, see, I've made myself more confused over this topic.


(And if you you're tempted to point out I'm overthinking this and being too anxious about having things read, just picture the obligatory nodding along on my part. I fully acknowledge this already.)

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It really does depend on the story, the mood, the characters-- everything. The opening is a huge part of a story that hooks potential readers in to the story, so if you've got something more action-filled, then it might be good to start with some action. Unless of course it's regular everyday ponies who have action come into their lives-- in which case I would open up with everyday regular things, but make sure the turn of events isn't too far into the story.

Pick a tone, hit that tone early on, and keep it. That's my (inexperienced) advice xD

If you've got any specific things you had in mind when posting this, then maybe consider sharing the idea and get help that is more specified and useful to what you're aiming for~ :)

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Well I have two projects that are causing me particular trouble concerning where in the stories to start them.

One is for an original story and my problem there lies more in what is the best point to ease someone in since its set in a completely original world. (I'm not saying it's original to brag but to stress that I've got to edge someone into a completely different setting and way of thinking for the inhabitants.) I could start with showing how the narrator's profession and the public opinion on that, start with a young apprentice being pushed on them and use the apprentice as a Mr. Watson trope, or start it off in the midst of some grand naval battle. (I have at least seven failed starts with varying scenarios and even more possibilities at hand.) The problem there is too many options that all fit fine so far as chronology and tone, but I need to figure out which is the best for someone coming in with absolutely no knowledge of the world.



​The other I'm having a lot of trouble with is, appropriately, an MLP fanfiction I've been hacking away at for maybe a week. (I don't write in order most of the time, it's a failing of mine.) And the fic revolves around three different ponies.

​Right now the start I have is three vague blurbs about how each of them doesn't fit in right and the third blurb (is meant to) carefully transition from being a blurb and into a bit of exposition and then a proper scene. Using that third pony, XG, I plan to move into meeting the other two and cycle between them as far as which I have the POV close in on. It sounds good in theory--or at least it sounds neat and organized. Instead I keep staring at this beginning and make a lot of constipated faces.

 

 

>>>> The tentative beginning for the MLP fic I mentioned. Well, the blurb parts.
I'd make this a Spoiler if I knew how... apologies.

&&&&&

MD hates the Light. She’s only safe to think as much in her own mind for as a Pegasus she is meant to love to fly in the light, among the clouds. She’s supposed to not prefer dark and confined spaces. She’s not supposed to look at the ground and wonder what lies beneath it at all.

But the light has always hurt her eyes.

&&&&&

PF isn’t supposed to be on a farm, day in and day out. He’s not supposed to be surrounded by hay for all his life. He knows this intimately and so when he leaves his family, he doesn’t bother with saying goodbye to any of them. They had never felt like his family, but not because anything they would do. “It’s not you, it’s me,” and in the young unicorn’s case it wasn’t a meaningless platitude. Whenever he was with them, he felt like an imposter and he didn’t know why.

Leaving seemed the smartest thing he could do at the time.

&&&&&

 

XG has always felt out of place and resentful at the status quo because of it.

Even when he had earned his Cutie Mark after besting his grandfather in a game of chess he felt wrong. He hadn’t felt any different when he got it and he hadn’t been having any grand epiphany about himself. In fact, when he had declared “checkmate” to the older pony, his mind had been contemplating whether or not he should feign sickness to get out of the upcoming ball.

The black silhouette of a crown, topped not with a cross or a heart but with a spade was supposed to be a mark of pride for him. A Cutie Mark was basically proof of coming of age. For all intents and purposes he should have been thrilled and become self-assured because of the mark. He was supposed to know who he was, having gained it.

Instead, Xanatos Gambit was only confused by it.

He felt like there was a scripted role he was meant to play, but no pony had handed him the script or prepped him.

 

 

So it's very... blah. But I really want to make sure that I have the three ponies on equal standing right off the bat, as opposed to starting only with XG and making it seem like he's the main character until the next chapter or something.

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Hmm...I was reading the first part of your intro...

 

What you're missing, is the hook.  The first sentence that will make people intrigued.  Often, fast and effective hooks include a question that reflects off the moralities questioned or played upon in the story.  The section seems a bit wordy...and comprised of too much...non-action words.  It seems like a little bit of purple prose, in my sole opinion.

 

I like the idea of doing a separate section for each of the characters, and then combining them-I think that's quite effective.  But...the whole intro seems a bit too wordy.  It needs more hooks, things that would lead the reader into the story and keep them entrapped there.  

 

((BTW, is this on FimFiction?  If it is, I'll need to check out your account and stories!  It sounds like a neat basis for a storyline.))

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I've dabbled in horror a little bit, and it's something I find very, very tricky.  You have to manage this mix of subtlety, imagery, and characterization of both your characters and their vulnerability, at least relative to what's hunting them.  So, you say you started off a horror story with the protagonist blocking thrown object, and I have to wonder if it's really a horror story or actually an action or mystery story, just with some horror trappings and maybe a depressing ending.

Personally, I never been able to manage it, at least not to my satisfaction.

 

On the beginning of the fic that you posted: the exposition aspect of it seems a bit too blatant.  The blurbs read like something I might put in my writing notes to keep my characterization focused, or maybe that I would put into the summary area if I were posting to FiMFiction, but I would try to avoid having things like that in the story itself.  (Further, I am assuming this was to be edited but just in case, in the final version the reader needs to be given the characters actually names the first time they see them rather than initials, unless them going by their initials or keeping their name a secret from the reader is either a plot point or a character point.)

It might not be a bad thing to write them each their own introductory chapter, and then release those three chapters at once or put them all one after another as sections of the first chapter.

 

Finally, on the topic itself of introductions that I like, there are three that I'm fond of using or reading, depending a bit on what sort of story is being considered.

The first is an approach called in medias res, and it's where you start off in an eventful part of the middle of the story, before rewinding to the beginning.  I see this one in a number of movies, and it's often accompanied narration from the character saying something along the lines of 'but wait, let me go back to the beginning', although this isn't strictly necessary.   It can be a really good way to grab someone's interest before they hit the full, slower introduction to the character.

The second (which I don't have a name for) is sort of similar, in that you throw the reader into the action prior to the protagonist's introduction, except you accomplish it by shifting between character perspectives instead of parts of the timeline.  So for example, a murder mystery might start with a scene where we see a shadowy figure kill the victim, before the perspective changes to the detective who we'll be following for the rest of the story, as he's just waking up the next day.  Or a fantasy story might start with a character trying to enact or prevent a prophecy, before the scene shifts to the main character of the work, on whom the prophecy will have big impact.

Finally, some stories I'll start by having the protagonist going through a fairly average day, or at least what starts out as one.  It can be a good way to establish the character as normal or to establish what normal looks like for them, which can be handy to show how out of place the character is or feels in the former and give a sense of why they react the way they do in the latter.

 

I hope this helps.

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I've dabbled in horror a little bit, and it's something I find very, very tricky.  You have to manage this mix of subtlety, imagery, and characterization of both your characters and their vulnerability, at least relative to what's hunting them.  So, you say you started off a horror story with the protagonist blocking thrown object, and I have to wonder if it's really a horror story or actually an action or mystery story, just with some horror trappings and maybe a depressing ending.

Personally, I never been able to manage it, at least not to my satisfaction.

 

On the beginning of the fic that you posted: the exposition aspect of it seems a bit too blatant.  The blurbs read like something I might put in my writing notes to keep my characterization focused, or maybe that I would put into the summary area if I were posting to FiMFiction, but I would try to avoid having things like that in the story itself.  (Further, I am assuming this was to be edited but just in case, in the final version the reader needs to be given the characters actually names the first time they see them rather than initials, unless them going by their initials or keeping their name a secret from the reader is either a plot point or a character point.)

It might not be a bad thing to write them each their own introductory chapter, and then release those three chapters at once or put them all one after another as sections of the first chapter.

 

Finally, on the topic itself of introductions that I like, there are three that I'm fond of using or reading, depending a bit on what sort of story is being considered.

The first is an approach called in medias res, and it's where you start off in an eventful part of the middle of the story, before rewinding to the beginning.  I see this one in a number of movies, and it's often accompanied narration from the character saying something along the lines of 'but wait, let me go back to the beginning', although this isn't strictly necessary.   It can be a really good way to grab someone's interest before they hit the full, slower introduction to the character.

The second (which I don't have a name for) is sort of similar, in that you throw the reader into the action prior to the protagonist's introduction, except you accomplish it by shifting between character perspectives instead of parts of the timeline.  So for example, a murder mystery might start with a scene where we see a shadowy figure kill the victim, before the perspective changes to the detective who we'll be following for the rest of the story, as he's just waking up the next day.  Or a fantasy story might start with a character trying to enact or prevent a prophecy, before the scene shifts to the main character of the work, on whom the prophecy will have big impact.

Finally, some stories I'll start by having the protagonist going through a fairly average day, or at least what starts out as one.  It can be a good way to establish the character as normal or to establish what normal looks like for them, which can be handy to show how out of place the character is or feels in the former and give a sense of why they react the way they do in the latter.

 

I hope this helps.

Ooo...good advice over here.

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((BTW, is this on FimFiction?  If it is, I'll need to check out your account and stories!  It sounds like a neat basis for a storyline.))

 

No, I haven't been writing it in chronological order and I've still been using shorthand for names I'm not 100% on still. Really nowhere near done. I am also not very familiar with FimFiction... I only read things on there when being linked to it so I'm not completely sure on what content is or is not allowed on there... My plans have just been to post the finished version on AO3.

 

I hope this helps.

Incredibly helpful!

Only thing I have to say in particular is that with my story that starts with the thrown chair, it starts off with action and turns into horror. That fic isn't for MLP at all, but for an action cartoon so I started it off with canon norms on purpose. I had just thought that was the best example for when I was talking about starting in the middle of action since it's literal in that example. Next time I'll just be more vague, ha ha, so sorry.

Anyway. I'm very glad that I posted that draft now since I can see why it wasn't working now--thank you!

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Ahh, okay, so there was context there that made that make more sense.

I saw it the way I did because it looked like a common mistake I made, and a mistake I've seen in a number of things (though admittedly more of them were movies or video games than stories).  At least in my case, since I know how to write action much better than I know how to write horror, I tended to subconsciously want or try to shift my stories into the former.

 

Aside from that though, glad I could help.

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Descriptions can be a little tricky when it comes to beginnings. Try to use the dialogue right of the bat instead. It flashes out the character and makes things feel more natural. Avoid unnecessary adjectives, use them sparingly during the conversation. The good dialogue will describe the persons/ponies involved without resorting to them, telling us if they are snarky, mischievous etc.

 

It does not have anything important either. Main character can for example speak with receptionist, only to find out all rooms are booked for example. This way you start building the bond between the protagonist and the reader from the first line.

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