I have been planning/plotting and outlining a story game that I want to write for the past month or so, and this week I was confronted with the infamous portion of the writing process known as "starting." I don't know how difficult it is to others, but I find it very difficult to build a compelling first page. I'll write one, re-read it a few days later, then scrap it and start again. Referencing the stories I have written so far, I have ultimately settled for first pages that range anywhere from atrocious to passable. To quote Ninjaptika about my story "The Chosen Hero,"
"...the opening page is poorly done. Since I’ve read Ebon’s featured story, The Lost Realm, I knew the opening would not be reflective of the overall piece. Still, it’s pretty bad. To be honest, if I didn’t read Ebon’s writing before I’d probably stop reading here..."
Each writer has their own weaknesses and strengths, and as clearly stated my openings are not that great. this is especially unfortunate considering that the first page is pivotal in hooking the reader. Therefore, I want to not only improve to write good opening pages, but ultimately write consistently excellent opening sentences, paragraphs and pages. To that end, I would love to hear all of your opinions about starting a story, and what makes a beginning good.
Since my short term goal with this is to write a story-game for the site, I would primarily like to know which of the story-games here have the best openings, but any examples would be appreciated.
As a side note, I don't know if this has ever been considered, but it would be an interesting mini-contest to have a series of opening pages written. The one that compels the reader to want to keep reading the most being the victor.
Any commentary helps!
Try using a cold open. Watch some good movies and TV shows- what makes good openings in those media also makes for good openings in writing.
As for your writing process, no one else will be able to find the best way for you to write. That is an agony-filled process of experimentation and error that you will have to endure alone, as your words flow through you alone.
For me, I write good stories when I have the entire concept of the story mapped out in a clear vision before I start writing any pages (aka outlining). Therefore, I already know how it's going to start and how the beginning flows into the rest of the story before I start writing the beginning. It comes from a firm grasp of the themes and point of the story. When I was younger and tried to write stories without a firm grasp of the themes of the story before writing, I was unsure of myself and how to start it, and so never did.
For CYOA stories with the best openings I have read, all of the games listed as my favorites in my profile have great openings, as well as Dangerous Memories.
So, the question is "how do I write a good first page and what are some examples?" I am not sure how helpful this will be, but here is what I got on how to write a good first page...
Start your story where they action starts. I see a lot of people make the mistake of starting with their main character eating breakfast or something stupid. Unless your story is about cooking, starting with breakfast probably isn't a good idea. If the story is about aliens invading, start the story when the aliens show up or immediately before they do. This will allow you do get to action or the meat of the story quickly. You can always add a flash back to what life was like before the aliens invaded later, but no one wants to read 1,000 words about how boring the main character's life is before the aliens arrive. They want to read about people getting the anal probes or whatever is happening. So many stories or shows start with the ending and flash back because they can create an exciting cliff hanger and start with action.
If I read your first page and there isn't a question that I want answered, you are risking me not moving on to the second page. Ask your self, "Why would someone even click this first link to the second page or make this first choice?" There should be an answer. Something like, "They want to know if the main characters girl friend survived the explosion when the aliens spaceship crashed into her car." Ending your first page with some sort of question, intrigue, mystery, or other incentive to move forward is critical. Cliff hangars are a really good strategy for this.
Mizal said this, but world building and exposition can come later. Save them for after your hook. I would rather see magic in action than have it explained. How magic works can come after I see some lighting magic kill a horde of goblins or something sweet. It's okay if things happen that are not totally explained on the first page as long as your story has internal logic and isn't impossible to follow without a ton of background info (like if you were to use made up words without explaining what they are with real words). Of course, your story might not have combat action, but you need to get into the interesting content quickly. This means introducing the romance element or a love interest on the first page or whatever it takes to have the story unfolding before the reader quickly.
Some sort of prologue is a good way to do this and introduce things that won't happen until much later in the main storyline as well. For example, a story about a school of mages might not have the students doing anything cool; however, their teacher might be a famous mage that battles a dragon in your prologue. Flash backs have already been mentioned, but they are a good way to add that information dump you are dying to put in your story after reader are hooked or to start in the middle of some "action" and still go back to the "beginning" later.
This is more general advice, but I think it is most important here in the beginning of your story: if you are being too wordy, make sure your focus of dedicating the most words to the most important elements of your story. Count the words you spend on the main character eating breakfast and compare it to the number of words used to describe the alien invasion (back to the first example). Make sure the word count favors the aliens that are literally what readers came to see and not the toast with jam.
Sorry if this is a bit disjointed or clumsy. I made it on my phone quickly, but I hope it helps!
Even better if the jam is the substance the aliens use to take over peoples brains, and the protagonist is narrowly interrupted from eating their jammed toast.
That was just a general example, but that is true. My point was just that if you start too far away form the action there will be too much filler up front. You can write a good scene about eating breakfast or even one where the main character isn't doing anything. However, I think I was traumatized by a story I reviewed elsewhere that had an opening like that, so I figured I would try to prevent it from happening here, haha.
This sounds painful. I have the good fortune of not running into a lot of these (yet).
Dragon eggs. It’s always these darn dragon eggs. The splotchy, runny mixture of neon green and hideous purplish blobs is a sickly sight to behold, yet it's much worse when it's running down your throat.
“Why can’t these alien dimwits just buy a donut instead?” you mutter under your breath. “Surely they’ve colonized enough of Earth to find a decent donut shop.”
Those dreaded eggs, more bitter than medicine and slimier than tadpoles (not that you’ve ever tasted tadpoles before), taunt you with their mere existence. You desperately try to ignore your stomach’s pleas for the sake of your dying taste-buds. How much more can you take?
Still, there’s another breakfast meal that garners an even greater hatred from you. That accursed jam and toast — if only you had the sense to ignore it, you wouldn’t be here. Eating nothing but raw dragon eggs every morning. Oh, and there was the whole murder spree, mind-controlled by aliens thing. You couldn’t care less; it doesn’t matter who they kill as long as you get a chocolate donut with jam filling or whatever it is they put in donuts nowadays.
As you lift the cold, metal spoon to your lips, you try to imagine you’re eating a meal from the past. Perhaps cereal — a common, everyday meal; maybe too common, as illiterate children tend to write about it in badly worded storygames when they suffer from a lack of interesting ideas. You once spent many hours laughing at their rage-fueled, pathetic outbursts. Yet, the atrocious stench of dragon eggs plague your nostrils and you’re roughly shaken from your pleasant reverie.
“Nothing good comes from breakfast.”
You send the bowl flying across the metal floor, leaving greenish-purple stains that glower with an otherworldly menace. Welp, there goes your breakfast for today. With enough luck, you’d be transferred to another colony, hopefully one where they serve daily rations of donuts. Hell, you’d even eat tadpoles if you had to. Anything’s better than these darn dragon eggs.
I see what you did here, haha. It's better than some story openings that I've read despite so much about breakfast. Still, I might pass this story up since it's obvious that there will be no donuts. Why read a breakfast story without donuts? The only thing that might keep me interested is the fact that toast and jam got me into this mess... how did that happen?
If I answer that last question, wouldn't I run the risk of readers not clicking the next page? Best to leave it cryptic for now.
But since I'm probably not going to actually write a story with this first page, the inspiration behind this can be found in this thread, based on several posts. And if I were to continue (here I'm blatantly disregarding my tendency to heavily procrastinate), then I'll probably make it a short adventure where the main character escapes an alien ship for the sole purpose of finding donuts. Saving humanity may be an optional side effect.
Wait, he finds donuts eventually? I would read on then!
You did really well tying together all of the jokes on this thread into an actual first page of a story though. I even like the synopsis you provided. Escaping aliens to find donuts would be the best story game since cows vs aliens!
Now I feel tempted to start another storygame that I'll probably never finish. Oh well, I'll file this idea away in my 'distracting new ideas' folder for now.