I currently have three projects going, each with a different style beginning. The first is a novel starting with a typical quiet beginning, describing the setting ( this case a hidden city) and the antagonist's desperate escape to evil. Work two is another novel beginning with a very detailed, very intense fight to the death between two dragons that happened long ago, but sets up things in the present. This is NOT a dragon book, but has a dragon fringe element. Finally, work three is a short story starting with the town burning and a great battle about to begin and the leaders of both sides facing each other close enough that either could deliver the final killing blow then flashes back one day.
My question is: Are these beginnings good hooks? I have always felt that a story should have a great beginning that drags in a reader, but am worried about them being too fast. Is an intense moment too much for a start? Is it better to provide some world/story background first and save such moments for later?
April 1st, 2006, 12:40 PM
This is one of those 'it really all depends' answers. The three beginnings you've described all sound good when summarised in a brief outline, whether they work or not as a hook (here it comes) really all depends on how well you write them.
To me, well-written prose is a good hook in itself, regardless of the story it's telling. So my advice would be to concentrate more on how you're writing, rather than what you're writing.
April 1st, 2006, 03:36 PM
One of the most important things to remember about beginnings is when they take place. In all likelihood there are things relevant to the plot that will happen long before the story takes place, and things resultant of the plot that will happen long after the story is complete. There is a giant continuum in which to place the story, and figuring out the point at which you should bring the reader into this tale of yours can be more important than the specific way in which they're brought in, so long as it's done well.
April 1st, 2006, 07:44 PM
I think they sound interesting but three projects is alot.
Have you got a good idea of how things are going to work in the stories?
I tried doing many projects and after a while i just combined them together because together they made a great story, where as seperately i wasn't putting my full energy into them.
But what has been said already is right:
Its the way you describe the events, not what they are themselves. The only thing i would warn you about is giving away too much, eg. hidden city, if you don't give us alot of info about this place then it makes it more of something that is hidden and not known about. The fight with the two generals is dangerous, you're giving away what is going to happen later, it can work as a hook but it depends what other plot lines you have working around this ie. this should be one of just many plots OR you should just not give us an idea of how it relates to the story ie. don't tell us that you're moving back to tell us of what happened a couple of days ago, that way we want to know how it affects us and the plot and can make us read on.
lastly, the dragons, some people don't like the dragon bit, BUT don't let that put you off using them, just make sure yours are different from everyone elses, if they're unique then it can make people ignore the fact that they don't like them. Dragon story or not, when they see the dragons at the start they'll expect to see more and if they don't like them they'll quit the story. SO give us a cool, new or different altogther take on them. Maybe make them something we've never heard of before or something, and we have to care about them, people are easier to care about in stories because you can empathise with them, so your dragons have to make us care about them somehow.
Hope this helps.
April 2nd, 2006, 07:26 AM
All those beginnings could work, depending on what the focus of the story is. Beginnings set expectations. So, generally, a story ought to deliver what a beginning promises. This doesn't mean you can't have surprises; but they should be the kind of surprises that have your readers go "Wow, I didn't expect that," and not "What the ****?" (Well, even the latter can work on occasion...)
So, the slow beginning would have me expect a story with emphasis on development.
The Dragon Fight I would expect to be meaningful in some way in the story. Either in terms of cause-effect (chain reaction, perhaps), or in terms of culture...
The last ending I don't quite understand, because, generally, when I see a town burning and two leaders facing off at striking distance, I'd expect a fight to (a) be close to the end, or (b) about to degenerate into chaos. That's one beginning that would make more sense to me written out in full (I think).
As everyone pointed out, it's ultimately in the execution. The words would have to hint at what to come, and not only in content but also by steering focus and introducing style.
But all that has been said.
...when they see the dragons at the start they'll expect to see more...
That's true, but expectations can be modified by the exact words you use:
(a) Prologue, faerie tale stye; actual story fantasy style:
Long ago - and who can tell just how long ago? - dragons dominated the sky, the way the eagles of today attempt to. No creature near or far would contest a dragons will, for a dragons will was absolute.
No creature but another Dragon.
(b) Dragon story "told" within the story, with reference to present-day culture:
The guide stepped from the tour bus and the tourists followed. The first cameras flashed before the entire group had left the bus. And there was nothing to see but two odd mounds in an otherwise featureless plain. These pictures, they would be pictures of elevated grass on even grass, the kind of pictures that would, no doubt, elicit polite nods from friends and relatives. "These are the Dragon Hills," the tourists would say. "They say, they're dragon corpses, overgrown petrified dragon corpses!" And friends and family would feign interest the way the tourists feigned excitement.
When all the group was assembled, the guide smiled, and spoke, voice thick with stylised local accent:
"May the shadow of the dragon fall upon you."
There were always one or two among the groups that scanned the skies when he repeated the ancient curse. Two, this time.
(c) Omniscient narrator simply stating the time dimensions:
Eight thousand years ago, over the fields of Argorath, an aerial battle took place.
(d) Just use the word "Prologue" and add a temporal indactor to the headline. Then have the section written in the same narrative style as the rest of the story. (Works only in novels/novellettes, obviously.)
All I can really say is that the beginning should conceptually fit into the story (and that's a terribly vague thing to say).
Also, I'd encourage questioning the metaphor "hook", when describing a beginning. Not all beginnings offer bait with a hidden hook in it. Some just wait for you become entangled in the net. ;)
April 2nd, 2006, 01:54 PM
Thanx for all the replies!
Simon, I hope I can write them well, one of them is actually done and getting reworked a bit.
Acaptus, each of my beginnings I felt were key moments of history in need of telling. The hidden city is a great contrast to what the antagonist found beyond. The dragon battle results in motivation to the dragons in the future. Although both are dead in the novels present, death is never really the end. And the battle on the brink beginning I felt was important as the story comes full circle to the opening scene and the hopefully shocking end.
Ghostshell, hopefully I wont give away too much in the beginnings. With the hidden city, its not a major setting within that story. As for the fight, well, it is really an experiment with flashbacks and I am hoping I can pull it off. The end of that story isn't what the reader is expecting, or so I am aiming for. The dragon fight is significant and, yes, I will have to be careful about how much plot info I drop.
Dawstorm, all the stories are aimed at developement, although the drastic change to my antagonist is probably the most significant. Maybe that dragon fight should be a prologue, hmmm. Finally, the fight. It starts that way but flashes back to show the two leaders aren't enemies at all. In fact, they are extremely 'close'. Whichever one dies, the other will be changed forever.
April 2nd, 2006, 02:26 PM
Dawnstorm, I think your right. My beginnings shouldn't be hooks. Those are painful and only catch the ignorant or desperately hungry fish. Instead, my beginning will be bait and the story will be a reader trap with the only hope of escape is reaching 'The End'. :D
April 3rd, 2006, 12:26 AM
I suspect there are at least a dozen "right" ways to begin a story, I've tried a few of them myself. So anything I say is my opinion based on my experiences. So there.
I try to begin a story when the story begins--whether or not the characters have any clue anything just began. Sometimes in the first drafts I start with background information or scene setting, but if you can take away the first few paragraphs, or pages, and no one would ever notice, then take them out. If there is important information, fold it into the story as it progresses. (Kind of like what I could do to that first paragraph up there.)
Okay, I admit, "hook" may not be the most exact word for it, but it rolls off the tongue much better than "You've read a little bit, do you care enough about what you've found here to read any more?"
April 6th, 2006, 06:27 PM
Ok, I have posted my short story beginning. Please let me know if you think its a good 'hook' or 'bait' :). Also, critique it to your heart's content, I am in dire need of some writing lessons. Dont be afraid, its only three paragraphs long so the suffering will, hopefully, be quick. :D
Prepare to swear at this dude! WHERE'S the REST YOU *** *** ** ** * ** **
There are some slight propblems at the start with how it reads and little bits that show you've edited it EG. - "Leader of the this group of..."
But other than that I WANNA SEE WHY SHE'S STALLING!
I very much like this beginning.