This here is meant for all the folks out there who wants to start writing a story, but doesn't know what to do or what to look out for. It's meant to be a generic guide, so don't treat it like a holy scripture. Treat it as a Basics to your first chapter. If you want to learn about how to make a story, try outlining what you have, or try using the snowflake method. This is a more fleshed out way of planning a story, and if you're not much of a planner but more of a "type as you go" person, then type away.
We all know starting a story is hard. There are too many possibilities, too many options. Too much isn't good, for in the face of endless possibilities, we can't help but to freak out like a deer in headlights. Instead of focusing on the endless potential out there, I'm going to instead focus on the beginning, and a few common things that could be found in the beginning.
The first thing you'll have to consider when drafting a story is, what type of story are you going to write, and who is your target audience? Writing a romance for a little kid is different from writing a romance for a teenager, and again for a young adult. Additionally, views on romance differs amongst genders. To females, it may be a sweet first date. To males, it may be a dashing hero returning after 20 years to a woman who is still faithfully waiting on him. Or it may be purely steamy sex scenes. Who knows. The point is, you have to choose which group of people you want to appeal to, and then write for them.
For instance, if I'm writing a novel about reincarnating to another world, with a cultivation system…
If my target range is for young kids, I might simplify down … almost everything in the story so the kids can follow along: "Core formation , Foundation Establishment, and Nascent Soul stages" might be simplified to "Power up!, Mega Powerup! And super ultra mega mega power up!" Fights against arrogant young masters might turn into a battle of good vs evil (think of Team Rocket in Pokemon, generation 1), and the ultimate end-goal might be a quest to save the world, or rescue a childhood friend. Throw in some life lessons, maybe about the power of friendships and teammates, or inabilities to solve problem alone.
Towards teenagers, I might step it up a bit. It may no longer be about good vs evil. Maybe it's more about self vs world. Clash and conflicts against authoritative figures (to empathize with the common "rebellion stage" of teenagers"). An easy win-win for lots of teenage boys is to throw in sexual tension. Lots and lots of tension. Hormones are kicking in. People are curious. Maybe throw in a few harem. Or maybe a hero-type novel, where the guy saves the girl, wins her heart. Or give it a white knight spin. Earn a harem or two. For girls, maybe throw in romantic situations. Throw in missed moments/opportunities. Make them frustrated about how dense the guys are for missing all those hints the girl is giving away. Make them relive that first time they ask their first crush out. Etc.
Point is, tailor your story to your intended audience. What I mentioned above isn't meant to be all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be set in stone. Yes, I know there are boys who aren't into all that stuff I mentioned earlier. Same with the girls. I'm just generalizing here to make a point: Find your audience, know what they like and dislike, and tailor your materials for them.
Great, you know your audience, and you know how to tailor your story. Good. Now, lets decide on a verb tense and point of view.
You can stick with past tense, for that is the traditional norm, or go with present tense. Regardless of whichever you choose, stick with it and be consistent. We're not going professional, so don't worry too much about which verb tense to pick from. Just focus on being consistent. Did I mention that you have to be consistent?
Next up is point of view (POV). You can choose between first, second, third person limited, or third person omniscient.
- First person: I went to the store.
- Second person: (not often used, but can be used for "choose your own adventure"-type stories): You went to the store.
- Third person limited: He/she went to the store. It seems scary and gloomy.
- Third person omniscient: He/she went to the store, and unbeknownst to them, a creature from the dark stalked them from behind.
With first person, you're limited to one person's POV. You can better internalize the thoughts and actions of the character, and the reader will feel a bit more intimate with the character. On the downside, you miss out on being able to display things from a third party's point of view, etc.
Try cycling between first person, third person limited, and third person omniscient, and see which you enjoy using more. If you're unsure of which to use, just pick one and go. If you find later that you want to switch out the POV, you can always come back to change them.
So we have a genre, an audience, the point of view, and the verb tense all figured out. Great! Now lets start onto the story itself!
A story is a telling of events/experiences/etc.
A good story informs the reader/listener of a certain moral/lesson.
A great story makes the reader forgets that they're reading, and allows them to live that life as the character.
We'll go more into what makes your story good:
Lets focus on the setting first. Settings are made up of two things: a time and a place of where an event takes place.
The place is important, and so is the time. You don't want to start off a kid story in the middle of a … gentleman's club. Nor do you want to start a romantic scene in the middle of a graveyard. It's a bit… eerie. I'm not saying it can't be done, but you'll have to do more work to help set the mood. Picking the right scenery makes it easy to set the intended mood, and allows you to focus on other things, like character development or plot movement. Remember though, we don't want to focus too much on the setting. We want the reader to be hooked about something relatable, like our character first. Yes, your planet is vastly superior to Earth, with floating mountains, flowers as exotic as can be, and the jungles are flourishing with wildlife. That's great! But how's that any different from me opening up a book about Jupiter and reading about the atmosphere there; or a book about the description of ZhangJiaJie National Forest? You see? Setting's good, but don't jump too much into it. Just give us a feel of the atmosphere, the surroundings, and move on. Fill us in later if you must, but do it casually. Don't go into a spiel of how the wood floorings were made of mahogany from the early 1940s due to certain streak marks, or that the carpet is of Persian ancestry from 1848, passed down for generations after generations. Unless it's super super super—and I mean super—relevant to the plot lines, throw those details in the back for now. We just need a basic feel of the setting.
Time: Picking the time where your story starts is vital to drawing in readers. Don’t start at the beginning, the root of everything. It demystifies everything and unravels the magic. Instead, start a part of the way into your story. Pick a scene that's a good distance away from your beginning and ending, and that's a good starting point. Weave the past into your story as you go along. Don’t try to spell out everything to your readers. They're smart. They can piece clues together. Wait, that also depends on your target audiences, of course.
Now, onto the character: your character needs to be strong. No, not like physically strong, but fleshed out. It's even better if you can make readers empathize with them in some way, like making them the underdog, weak and vulnerable, or just suffering from some sort of trouble. If you can make the character interesting too, go for it. Make them naturally gifted in some area/field, or unique/weird. Make them powerful, or charming and funny. Give them a personality. They have a past, and they have future goals. Define those past and future goals, and see how they bring about help/conflict with those around them. Don’t make your character too perfect though, otherwise it'd be hard to… relate to. Give them a flaw. Something that they can work towards fixing.
If you're not sure how to achieve that, feel free to refer to Sanderson's 318R course lecture on his early attempts to define a character; capability, likeablility, and proactiveness(How capable they are, how well like they are, and how proactive they are). Further viewing about character can be viewed here. Don't limit yourself to just that scale though! Use it as a reference point if needed!
With settings and characterization tackled, lets take a brief look at plots. I see plots like motor running on a see-saw. Something is pushing, and something is pulling. Something has to drive the plot along, for the plot can't drive itself. What, then, can you use to help drive your plots along, to move those gears? Questions. Questions are the answer. Draw up tension, suspense, conflicts, resolutions, whatever. Use them all. But most crucial to it all is, does it make the reader wonder about what will happen next? What's stopping our hero from getting what he wants? What happens when evil overlord succeeds in stopping our hero? What if evil overlord fails? With that in mind, do note that the story doesn't start until the main character develops a goal and is proactive in trying to reach that goal. Before the character is faced with a problem, nothing noteworthy happens. When conflicts and problems do arise, make the character's goal clear from the get-go to start the ball rolling. Before then, you'll have to rely on baits and hooks to reel the readers in. Here's a great guide on how to create suspense. Use it well!
Alright! Now that we got the basics out of the way, let's focus on starting our first chapter!
First and foremost, understand this: first impression matters. It's the difference between getting people to read a single sentence, or skipping over it completely. What are some things that can get affect the first impression?
Easy: Cover art, title, synopsis, reviews, ratings, chapter 1.
Great news is, you can control almost every aspect of this. Cover art? Find one that sets the mood of your story. Feel free to use pink colors if it's related to romance. Eroticas? Throw in some almost naked people, covered here and there. Something dark and menacing? Maybe try using some lightning in the background on a dark night. Supernatural and scary? Use a wavy font/typeset (think Goosebumps). Maybe throw in some ghosts in the background. You get my drift. Your cover art should give people a feel for what to expect in the story.
Title? There's a big difference between something like The Emperor's Soul and I’ve Already Saved This World and Taken Its Wealth and Power and I Live Happily in a Castle with a Female Knight and Demon Queen, So To All Other Heroes: Stay Out of This Fantasy World. See? Vast difference in impression (yes, those are two actual titles). Synopsis aren't too bad either. Refer to this resource or this one if you're unfamiliar with how to approach your synopsis. Don't fret though, there's more than one way to skin a rabbit. There's no right way to do it. Just lots of great ways.
Your early chapters will determine your ratings and reviews. Most important is chapter 1. If your readers can't bring themselves to read past chapter 1, your story will never be read. You'd be nipped in the bud before you have a chance to redeem yourself with your awesome plot/storyline.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that your first chapter draws the reader in. Don’t, for the love of your holy being, dump information at me. I'm not invested in this relationship yet. I'm fairly traditional—I need some dinner and wine first before you can start unloading information to me, and even then, don't do it by the truckload. I'm here to get my fix. Give it to me. If you think I'm worth staying, then throw down a few more baits. More dinner and wine.
How would you do that with your chapter? Throw out a hook. With a bait. Make it interesting, and irresistible. Within your first paragraph, if you can. Think about it: would you rather read from the very get-go describing the details of a room, or something that starts out with, "On the third morning, after the rain swept away all the ashes from the sky, I died." Make the reader ask questions. Yes, I understand that there will always be questions, but it is your job to make the readers interested enough to ask them. Make the readers read past the first line. Then past the first paragraph. Then the first chapter. Then the second. The more you can get me to read, the more I'll end up reading. Why's that? Well, there's something noted as the sunk cost fallacy, where—basically speaking—the more I invest in something, the harder it is for me to jump out of it because of how invested I feel in it despite the sunk cost. You can google more about it to learn the exact details, but this post isn't about fallacies and psychology. It's about getting readers to read more of your story.
So, so far in chapter one, you throw out a hook. Bait me. Give me a good opening paragraph. After that, make me care about your character. If I can't connect to your character in some level—i.e both our grannies hate peanut butter and jelly—then… well, I might not stick around to see what happens in the story. It'll end up being a story that I don’t particularly care for. Make me care. I should know who he is, and what his goals are. What's the tick to his tock? Why would his story matter? Let me know who he is.
If that's too hard, try this exercise: Think of your best friend, and how you met that friend. Did you guys connect because you both sat in the wild and observed who would potentially be your friend, and after years of collecting data, you guys made your moves to become friend? How'd you guys meet? How'd you guys become friends? How'd you guys get to know more about each other?
For those of you who, like me, lack the social features that other people seems to have pre-programmed with, I have surmised that the most probable answer to the previous question would be: common activities and conversations. Yes, common activities and conversations. I, myself, would've initially guess that it'd be the observational approach, seeing the others in their natural habitat and slowly approaching with offerings of peace and good tidings. But I think the more socially-acceptable way would be to approach one another, and after a series of utters and grunts, connect together and become as thick as thieves. How that's achieved, that'll probably forever remain a mystery to me. But I've been told this exercise would help. So do put in dialogues. Don't forget them. Conversations help reveal personality.
Once you've made me care, give me a conflict. Give me a problem, and tell me what's going to happen should the problem not be resolved, and what would it be like if it was. Then build up to it (but not all in one chapter… do it slowly). And focus on a central theme that you would wish to be prevalent throughout your novel. It could be about betrayal, one vs many, team up to save the world. Whatever it is, give a glimpse of it. But don’t reveal everything. Like before, string us along the way. Reveal bits and pieces of the world around us, the mystery of the conflict, the hope, the despair.
When you're done with your chapter 1, rewrite it. Over and over. And over and over again. When you think you're good, have someone else read it. When they're finished, don't just ask them, "Was it good? Would you read this story if you have the chance? Do you think I need to change anything?" Don't ask vague open-ended questions. You'll get generic responses, ones that people will think they want you to hear, and probably filled with praises: "Yes, it was great! You're such an amazing writer! I can never do this!" That's not helpful to your cause at all. Instead, be more analytical and specific. Ask questions, such as: "In regard to the main character, what kind of sense or feeling did you get when you read about the character?" "Was there any point in time when you felt like you've glossed over a section of text because, well, it didn't seem interesting?" "What kind of mood did you get from reading the first three paragraphs?" "Did you feel like you can relate to the character at all, and why? What areas are relatable?" You know, questions like that. Questions that are specifically geared to finding out of a reader can see what you're trying to portray.
TLDR? Start your story with a hook. Introduce your protagonist. Start with action, not history. Make me care about your character. Introduce a problem/conflict with antagonist. Start the journey with the character, and give us a goal to look forward to. Build suspense.
Last, but most important point: use a spell checker. There' s no reason to have a story published with lots and lots of typo errors that could be easily found with a simple spell checker. Don't have any native spell checker on your computer? Fine, use the internet. Grammarly works great. You can also try GrammarCheck. Point is, there are lots of online grammar/spelling checker out there on the internet. Google it, use it. It makes a big difference, and it helps tremendously.
G'luck out there friends. Hope this helps some of you and gives you guys a direction on how to write. Hobey-ho.