Starting Your Novel: How Do You Like Your Books to Start?

Updated on October 9, 2019
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Many new authors sit and stare at a blank page. They have no idea where to start. They reach for words that aren't there and sometimes demand they appear. They rarely do. Some think there is a magic formula to get them going. Maybe there is a template. They might even try a few magical words in the hope they will work.

There are many suggestions as to how to get your book started. One of them is to ask yourself how you like the books you read to start. If you like books to start a certain way, others might too.

Immediate action can engage a reader quickly.
Immediate action can engage a reader quickly.

Immediate Action

Some books start with immediate action. I mean from the first word the reader is in the midst of intense action with one or more characters. The murder occurs immediately or the wreck or whatever the crises. The reader has plunged into the story straight away. There is no slow progression into the story.

How do you feel about that? Do you like it when it starts that way? If this appeals to you, consider starting your book in the main action of the story. Maybe you can think of how to start your book in a fast-paced fashion like that.

I’ve opened a story with a kidnapping. I’ve opened a story with a death scene. I like to hook the reader immediately if I can, but I don’t use that method all the time. Sometimes I take the reader in slowly. Many good books do that as well. It all depends on the story.

What best fits your particular story? That’s the best place to start. Never assume there is a perfect formula. It needs to be determined by your unique book. Is your book one that would benefit from immediate action?

Flashbacks set the stage with context for the present-day.
Flashbacks set the stage with context for the present-day.


Many books start with flashbacks to give the reader a little insight before the story picks up. It is a glimpse into the past that is connected to the main story. It is a step back in time to understand the present time of the story.

You might see the crime that happened decades earlier that the main character is dealing with. Maybe the flashback is really the moment before the climax before the story goes back in time and starts from the beginning. It gives the reader a glimpse into what the crucial time period is.

This method usually is designed to hook the reader and give them insight they normally would not have. The flashback is dramatic and full of action, mystery, secrets. It hints and the present problem in the story.

Dialogue introduces readers to a relationship rather a single point of view from the character or narrator.
Dialogue introduces readers to a relationship rather a single point of view from the character or narrator.


Some books start out with someone talking. The dialogue is the first part the reader encounters. That can bring a little dramatic flair. It throws the reader right into the midst of what is happening. It gives the reader a sense of being close to the characters.

If you choose to do this, the dialogue needs to be meaningful. It has to reveal part of the plot, the character, or something that helps the reader along. It has to draw the reader in. It can be a shout or something deep and moving. Make it memorable.

Setting the scene gives the reader a visual platform for your narrative.
Setting the scene gives the reader a visual platform for your narrative.


You could just start your story by describing a person or scene. Again, it has to be relevant. Don’t just describe a pathway just to do so. The pathway has to play a major role in the story or at least in that scene.

I’ve seen the setting described, the major character described, or even sounds laid out in detail. They all were shown to be important.

The best way to see how this is done is to find a best selling book and see how the author starts it. Grab another one and see how that one starts out. Learn by example.


Some books start with a prologue. This could be seen as a flashback but can be so much more. SCRIBNDI describes a prologue as a section of the book that gives information to help the plot by "giving background information . . . grabbing readers' attention . . . describing a scene from the past . . . giving information from a different point of view."

This can be an informative way to bring your reader into the story, but it needs to have something to hook them. Consider carefully which way you choose to start your story.


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting read!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      This beginning is always a problem for me. These are good suggestions.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      The prologue of my first book RAVENFEAST sets the scene for late September, 1066, with a small fleet of ships pulling onto the strand somewhere in Holderness, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Their purpose is to 'blood' the less experienced of a Norse army brought to England by Harald Sigurdsson, 'Hardradi' to claim the throne from King Harold. The scene then shifts to my main character, King Harold's Danish kinsman Ivar with an English army on its way north to take on the northern invaders...

      Each book in the series was 'paced', i.e., I knew where it would start and where it would finish. A lot of dialogue enters the seven stories that take the reader from September 1066 to winter, early 1071. (The purpose of the books is to push home the truth that William was not secure in his kingship until he'd forced King Malcolm of Scotland into a truce in 1074, favourable to William).


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