The classic way to start a story leads everyone into the narrative, ‘once upon a time’ … the trouble is, writing a novel now just can’t start like that… I know technically it could, but f I were reading an adult book which started like that it would immediately set up expectations. I might think it was whimsical which would put me off, I might think it was a character speaking which wouldn’t necessarily draw me in either. A character staring this way might be telling a story to a child, or might be turning their own story into a fantasy, and I think I would feel it wasn’t very original.
I think the beginning a book is the most daunting part to write because I know how fussy I am as a reader, as I hope I have shown above, exaggerating my opinions of ‘once upon a time’ as a beginning. Sometimes the beginning of a book is a scene, sometimes it is a character observing something, sometimes it is action, or direct speech… whatever it is, whatever has been chosen as the first thing the reader finds is a risk! I began my last novel ‘Radwinter’ in a way I have never used before, because I was writing in a way I never had before; Radwinter was not just a first person narrative, it was the main character addressing the reader directly, not just recording the events which happened to him to make the story. ‘he’ starts the story by introducing himself, and saying a little about himself and his family, and the purpose of him writing about their history.
I have never written a sequel before, but now I am continuing Thomas’s story, and again he is ‘telling’ the story in the same way, writing what happens to him and his thoughts, almost like a diary. Because of this he starts his next account in the same way, introducing himself in his new situation. I puzzled over this second novel, and thought about it a lot, about the way it should be written (and even if it should be written) but three-quarters of the way through, I am quite happy with the beginning… but I wonder what my readers will think!