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Ready, Set, Go! Starting Your Stories

Nailing the beginning of our stories is key to hooking readers and keeping them turning the pages. But there's sooooo much we want readers to know about the characters near and dear to our writerly hearts. How do we balance enticing readers while including the backstory or context we feel they need to understand?

Think of it this way, you're at a cocktail party or some other mixer event. You're meeting a series of new people. Who do you choose to engage in conversation? Who do you exchange numbers with to grab coffee with later? Who do you feel an instant connection with, knowing you've just found your new best friend? Okay, now translate that to the characters in our stories. We need to create interesting, unique people and show them in action so that readers can find them engaging enough to want to stick around. We don't meet somebody and immediately want to know everything about them. But if they say or do something that we find intriguing, we'll stick around to learn more. And then depending on what more we see and hear, they get upgraded to coffee date or instant bestie tiers.

So, you ask, how does this translate to advice you can use? The key for most genres of fiction is to start with action. Show us your characters moving through the world and make them impossible for us to not want to follow through their day. Then, as readers are hooked—as we're ready to start coffee dates, then start to slowly including more interiority and backstory to contextualize your characters. Something I say repeatedly to students and consulting clients is to be conscious of portioning. If you have a long paragraph or paragraphs of interiority or backstory, you run the risk of it acting as a tension speed hump, unless your reader feels that it is essential for them to know in that moment. Make sure you have touch points in scene with the characters shown in action to balance out backstory, and ensure you don't include it until the reader likely feels like they need to know it in that moment: focus on relevance.

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