I mentally picture Chevy Chase character in the 1988 movie Funny Farm where he’s sitting at his type writer. Chase types up a title page, then a chapter cover sheet, but he can’t write the first sentence. I’ve previously discussed outlines, character personalities, plots, dialogs, the climax, and etc. But the hardest part is actually starting your rough draft.
In the opening chapter, you need to lay the ground work of your plot, the point of view, and the introduction to your main character(s). Some books will start with memorable quotes or themes (the epigraph) prior to the start of the actual chapter (or before the prologue) – example Twilight with the Genesis quote – to lay the ground work for the story beginning. Other books start with a memorable opening of their own – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Charles Dickson in A Tale of Two Cities.
Do not be discouraged with trying to come up with something profound as an opening sentence, but focus first on just getting the story written. The rough draft is exactly that: rough. You do not need to focus on correct sentence, spelling, or if it even makes sense yet (though, it will help in your revisions if you do). It is your job to write and let your imagination flow. The worst thing for a writer is to have an amazing story, but unable to share it because they are stuck with the intro. Do NOT let it intimidate you.
Look at your outline closely, and if you are struggling, break down the outline with what you want to happen in your opening chapter. Then type along with the outline.
If you seriously can’t think of a way to open your story – paint your character doing something completely normal. Outline their average day then drop the bomb on them with the start of your story.
* Think of Harry Potter, the first book – the opening chapter only mention Harry as a relation, and that was trying to remember his name. It did outline a sub-character, the uncle, day at work, then slowly added the oddity that he missed at first, then started seeing as the day progressed.
Do not begin with “It was a warm summer day” or “The alarm rang, waking up” the character – those are cliche type openings. Stay away from cliche’s.
If your story calls for it, open with action. It will draw the reader in and they’ll want to keep reading to see what happens.
If none of these options work and you can’t think of an opening chapter then skip it and work on what you do have planned. You can always write in another chapter later, or through your revisions, you can edit what you do have written to make it your story start.
The goal with the rough draft is to get your story down. Fixing loop holes, and spelling can come later through the revisions.
Keep writing, keep learning.
L. R. Mauck