It was a dark and stormy night.
Your story starts… now!
Authors, all levels of experience and skill, often drag their feet (or their pen) at the start of a story. Sometimes they’re trying to say too much, trying to give the reader too much detail up front.
Watch out for this!
Other times, the author is still searching for the story—it’s still not clear what’s going on, so the beginning is tentative, ill-defined or rambly.
Editors often spot the true beginning two or three paragraphs in. It happens repeatedly.
Like, seriously. All. The. Time.
When you point this out , when you say, ‘Your story starts HERE’, writers invariably do a forehead slap.
It’s so obvious once they see it.
Now, with a kid’s book, it’s even more important that you refine the beginning.
You don’t have endless paragraphs to waste. Kids will not read along quietly, admiring your art, marvelling at your stylistic prowess. You have to catch ‘em quickly.
I’m not saying you must always open on an action scene. No way, Josephine.
Many creative writing books will suggest this. But it’s not always effective.
Instead of piquing the reader’s interest, too much action too soon, can have a distancing effect. It can confuse young readers, too. It can be jarring because the reader hasn’t yet developed any affection for the characters. There’s no emotional investment.
So think carefully before you open with action. That’s all. Think carefully and consider the age of your reader, too.
Better to hone your voice than worry too much about opening with helicopters— or monkeys with machine guns.
A warm, inviting voice; a funny, energetic voice; a cheeky, pompous voice. There are countless ways you can develop your voice and in so doing create an opening that’s intriguing and assured, that hooks the reader.
Of course, in the early stages you shouldn’t be fretting about the opening of your story. Just jump in and get cracking. Save the fine-tuning for later. Go back to the start when you’re more familiar with your fictional world and with your characters.
During the rewrites, when you have things figured out and you’re feeling more confident, that’s the best time to revisit the beginning. (Agonising over the start of your story before you even get going is equivalent to hand-wringing. Cut that shit out. Write something, anything, then keep moving.)
Like I said, play with the opening scene during the rewrites. See if you can make it more evocative. See if you can make it more inviting. Make your story so irresistible a kid will happily tumble into it.
When all else fails, throw in some cake. Or a kitteh.
I don’t mean to sound flippant, but kids really do love food and animals.