The beginning of a novel is really one of the most difficult things to write.
In this era of instant gratification, short moments of attention and tons of great content to compete with, the beginning of a novel becomes a key moment.
So how can you start a great story?
Here are 8 tips on how to write a great incipit!
Examples of incipit taken from undisputed masterpieces
The great Gatsby, Francis Scott Fitgerald
“In the most vulnerable years of my youth, my father gave me advice that never went out of my mind. “When you feel like criticizing someone,” he told me, “remember that not everyone in this world has had the advantages you’ve had.”
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of Privet Drive number 4, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, and thank you very much. They were the last people in the world to expect from them to deal with strange or mysterious things, because such nonsense didn’t approve of them. “
It, Stephen King
“The terror that would last for twenty-eight years, but perhaps more, began, as far as I can tell and tell, with a newspaper boat that ran down a sidewalk in a trickle full of rain.”
Where the story ends, Alessandro Piperno.
“At forty-nine, Federica Zevi knew that she was representing – for widows, divorced, and long-term singles – an acceptable fallback for the thirty-year-olds who were dreamed of and always less available. In the rare moments of self-esteem one felt a third-hand Jaguar to which the old owners have made regular coupons. “
Novecento, Alessandro Baricco.
“It always happened that at one point one raised his head … and he saw it. It is a difficult thing to understand. I mean … We were there in more than a thousand, on that ship, among rich people on the road, and emigrants, and strange people, and we … And yet there was always one, only one, one first … he saw it. “
Whether or not you have read at least one of these masterpieces, I can assure you that in each of these openings we already find all the tenor, style and tension that will accompany the reader throughout the novel.
They are truly exemplary.
Start with a turning point
You can also start with an event that can change a protagonist’s life – a moment that drives him or her into a conflict that they must resolve or overcome by the end of the story.
Or think of trouble or lies or secrets and scandals, think of an incipit that speaks of a rich family, with an enviable life, but in reality every member of it hides an unmentionable secret … you want to keep reading, don’t you?
Use a special setting for the incident / event that starts the story
A great example is in The Shining (Stephen King), where Jack is at the infamous Overlook Hotel for a new interview. The reader thinks this will be a new beginning for him and his family … but, of course, he is wrong.
Stephen King could have filled the front pages with Jack’s exposure in his old life, but the beginning of the novel in the hotel – which is a bit like a character in itself – immerses the reader in the story in the correct way and catapults him into reading.
Still an excellent example of an incipit. Shining:
- “Job interview.
- Jack Torrance thought, Small intriguing asshole.
Ullman was a little over six feet tall, and when he moved he had the swiftness that seems to be peculiar to all the fat little men. He had his hair parted by an impeccable parting, and the dark suit was sober, but not severe. “
Make your characters immediately empathetic or unpleasant
In a novel focused on characters, it is essential to make them immediately recognizable and identifiable. But be careful not to fall into the error explained in step 8!
Attract the reader with a strong narrative
Some of my favorite novels are told in the first person. A classic example is The Young Holden by J.D. Salinger:
“If you really want to hear this story, maybe you will want to know first of all where I was born and how it was my bad childhood and what my parents and company were doing before I arrived, and all those crap at David Copperfield , but I don’t really want to talk about it.
First, that stuff bothers me, and second, my parents would get a couple of heart attacks for one if I said something too personal about them. I am terribly susceptible to these things, especially my father. Carini and everything – those who deny it – but also damnably susceptible. “
Through these lines, we immediately build an opinion of the young protagonist narrator Holden. The world in which he addresses the reader directly is also very convincing, almost making him feel like a friend to whom he writes in a confidential tone.
Don’t overdo the exposure
It can be tempting, in most cases, to reveal all of a character from the first few pages – the background, the secrets, the character etc … thinking that this is the only way the reader can become fond of it. But it is not really so, we tend to advise against it.
Pretend your characters are at a party, and they’re talking to you for the first time, that you’re the reader. Could they really tell you their whole story, or would they only do it later knowing you better? Certainly you bring out some characteristic traits of the character but only later in the narration once the reader is hooked, then it could be the time to tell more and complete the story of the character. It is a delicate balance.
If you can help, we have also addressed the topic of the incipit here.
Of course, for any inspiration, reflection or advice, use the space dedicated to the comments below!