5 Ways to Start a Book by Melinda Curtis (Romance Author University)
Sometimes writers have trouble starting a book. They stare at a blank page. Type a few words. Hit the backspace key. And start over.
I’m here to tell you – don’t overthink! I’ve written over 50 books and my advice to you is to do some verbal vomiting on the page and edit later. However, if you’re stuck, here are five ways to get that book started.
When I’m doing pre-writing planning or just sitting at a stop light thinking about a new book, I’ll often come up with a line of dialogue that makes me excited. Here are four different opening lines of dialogue from four of my books.
“What’s the emergency?”
“Tell me this isn’t where we’re going to live.”
“Your services are no longer required.”
Did he love me? (This was internal dialogue.)
Can you see how a provocative line of dialogue can draw a reader in? If you choose to open with dialogue, follow it with who’s speaking and where they are in the next few lines.
Themes or Character Journeys
I don’t always know what my theme is when I start writing a book, but when I do, I love how powerful they can be when used in an opening. Here are some openings that hint at what the theme of the book is about or what journey the character is going to go on.
Never look back. That’s what Ben Blackwell’s grandfather, Big E, used to say.
Becca MacKenzie was sweet and loveable and trustworthy. At least, that’s what people used to say.
Life was a numbers game. Count the years, count the money, count the marriages, count the mistakes.
The thing about relying only on yourself was that you had no one else to blame when things went wrong.
Can you see how jaded or hurt these characters are just from a little look into their mottos or the journey I have planned for them? If you know it, get it on the page!
Dribble in the Setting
Critics would say “Don’t start with setting.” But I’ve used that, too. Starting with a little description can set the mood and lay the foundation for story trouble. Here are some of my openings that begin with setting.
It was raining. Again.
No one was answering the phone in the hotel room next door.
Driven by the whipping wind, roaring flames made torches of the drought-dry trees on the ridge.
Can you see how a little bit of description – perhaps not a lengthy paragraph – can set the scene for the reader?
Introduce the Conflict
I’ve started stories with hooks and story conflict. Why not give it right up front when readers have favorite stories they gravitate toward? Here are some of my conflict openings.
Cole Hudson was never going to love her.
Today was going to be the day. There’d be hugs and smiles, reminiscences and laughter.
Mary had plans. Those plans didn’t include being pregnant.
Simon Castle needed an exterminator, preferably one with a law degree.
Can you see how quickly I communicated what the story is going to be about? These lines introduce your external plot.
Start with a Quick Hit of Backstory
I’ve started stories with a tiny bit of backstory, usually when my character has been disappointed or failed in some way prior to the opening of the book. I try to get readers to root for them right away – there’s no place to go but up! Here are a few of my backstory openings.
Gina Vernay stopped believing in holiday magic when she was seven.
When Kathy Harris was a teenager, she’d dreamed of being a fashion designer, a professional basketball player, and an airline pilot – anything to get out of her small hometown. So much for dreams.
I hope you can see that these characters are going to learn something – about Christmas, about dreams, about their hometown!
As you can tell, there’s no right or wrong way to start a book. So why sweat it? Plop some words on the page and keep moving forward. Best of luck!
The Rancher's Redemption - Return of the Blackwell Brothers
His family committed a terrible wrong
Ben Blackwell wants to make it right
The last time Ben saw Rachel Thompson was when her best friend left him at the altar. Now Rachel’s suing the Blackwells over river water rights. Rachel’s a triple threat—rancher, fellow attorney and single mom—and Ben’s plan to win in court hits a snag when mutual attraction blooms. If he divulges a long-held secret, will his family forgive him? Will Rachel?
Prior to writing romance, award-winning, USA Today bestseller Melinda Curtis was a junior manager for a Fortune 500 company, which meant when she flew on the private jet she was relegated to the jump seat—otherwise known as the potty. After grabbing her pen (and a parachute) she made the jump to full-time writer. Between writing sweet romance for Harlequin and indie-pubbed sweet romantic comedy, Melinda finds time to bond with her husband over home remodeling projects. She recently came to grips with the fact that she’s an empty nester and a grandma, concepts easier to grasp than jet-setting on a potty. Her latest release is The Rancher’s Redemption, which started with the line: Never look back.