New writer seeking advice on opening for novel

Deke

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Hello all, I am an aspiring novelist just starting out on my journey of writing a space opera.

I have reached the point where my characters have been constructed, my book outline is complete, and I know where each main character is going to start out. I have started writing but I'm having difficulty choosing where the book should begin. The books I like and from what advice I have read online say to throw your character into danger as soon as possible. So here are my choices-

I have 4 main characters, lets just call them character 1-4.

Character 1 is joining a mysterious and elite military unit, so I was unable to think of a way to use her in the opening chapter as her intro is going to be mostly talking with an army recruiter who is trying to talk her out of what she is doing.

Character 2 is a fighter pilot about to launched into the Martian atmosphere to duke it out with some Martian seperatists. He seemed like a good choice but as I was writing I felt like I was throwing too much at the reader at once.

Character 3 is a naval cadet about to board her first starship, so she is not a good candidate to throw into certain mortal peril.

Character 4 is a Marine private about to drop into the same battle as Character 2 is fighting in. I have settled on starting out with his point of view because it starts out in a blacked out drop pod, the jitters of a private going into his first gunfight. I thought I could use this as a vehicle to slowly introduce the reader into the universe without being too jarring and focus on the human aspect instead of the technological one. Just a man in a drop pod with his thoughts as the clock counts down. This accomplishes my goal throwing the reader straight into the action, and I can weave in Character two in the next chapter where the reader will have gotten their feet grounded in the setting and I can focus on some more of the tech side of things with space/upper atmosphere combat.

My only other idea was to use a throw away character who is exploring the depths of space and coming into contact with the main bad guys of the story, doomsday types you know the ones if you ever read a space opera. I had thought of opening with a human starship making a first exploratory jump into an alien star system and discovering the baddies before trying to run and getting blasted to pieces. This would accomplish the goal jumping straight into the action and establishing the greater threat and framing it against the small conflict stuff I am opening with.

I would love some feedback, this is my first post here and I am excited to have a group of people to talk with about my first book.
 

JS Wiig

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Write from before the beginning then cut out what doesn’t need to be there.
 

The Judge

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Hello and Welcome to Chrons!

Hmmm. I don't know that I'd agree it's necessary to put one's main characters into danger immediately, not least because until we know the character we can't begin to sympathise/empathise with him/her. What I do think is necessary, though, is to grip the reader from the start, though there are many different ways of doing that, and to try and have the inciting event, which kicks off the whole plot, happening within the first page or two.

Having said that, I agree that of the choices apparently before you it looks like character 4 is the best bet, as you can build up some of the necessary relationship before the action kicks off, and his chapter would segue well into the same fight as seen from character 2's POV. Try it and see -- if for any reason you find it's not working, then you can try another option afterwards! You'll find that there are other Chronners who have had similar difficulties as to where and how to begin so they run through two or three false starts before really taking off. And it's always possible to swap the order of the scenes as and when you've got the whole book written and you've got a better feel for which deals best with the major themes of the novel.

As to the final option you mention, it's one that feels very cinematic but may well be one that irritates readers -- it sounds more like a prologue than a Chapter One, which would in itself annoy some people, and it can often appear that such an action scene has only been chosen to start the book because the real Chapter One isn't in itself engrossing enough. So I'd be wary of going that route unless all else fails!
 

Wayne Mack

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Try writing the various options and see which one seems best. There is nothing wrong with throwing away failed alternatives.

I suggest that the first chapter have a character being active, not necessarily being put into mortal danger. Avoid having pages of descriptive text or having characters enter into a long discussion providing descriptive text (although one initial paragraph describing the current setting is helpful in opening an action sequence). The Character 1 opening might be challenged in this regard.

The Character 2 and Character 4 openings, going into a full battle sequence may be too much all at once. Give the reader time to get to know the characters before sending them into a major fight scene. Usually, a short action sequence is all that is needed to start the story, and by keeping it short, there is time to introduce a couple of characters and the setting.

The Character 3 opening has some potential. Maybe combine that with Character 1 coming on board. Loading up gear provides an opening to discuss (briefly) weaponry and equipment and possibly mention the enemy.

The last option, using a character that is not in the actual story sounds more like a prologue approach. It may introduce the enemy, but a real chapter 1 is still need to introduce the characters.

Any of the openings might work, so get something down on paper. You can always rewrite later, but you can't rewrite until you write first. Turn those thoughts and ideas into something real. It will be both fun and frustrating, but the biggest challenge is getting started. Best of luck on your story!
 

Kerrybuchanan

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As TJ said above, I don’t think immediate mortal peril is essential at all. What you need is tension, a hook, and characters the reader can quickly invest themselves in.
I also think that worrying too much about details at the beginning could cause your writing to stall before it’s had a chance to take off. I suggest you write whatever beginning feels most natural to you, then write the rest of the novel. By the end, I’ll be surprised if you don’t rewrite the beginning anyway because by then you’ll really know your characters and how they’ll react to being challenged. Your newly confident handling of the opening should (hopefully) transfer itself to the reader, who will then care what happens to the character with whom you choose to open the story.
 

TheEndIsNigh

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Hi, I can be picky - forgive.

Plus what follows is not gospel. Just my oinions for which I can claim no expertise.


Hello all, I am an aspiring novelist just starting out on my journey of writing a space opera.

This is the place join the queue :)


I have reached the point where my characters have been constructed, my book outline is complete, and I know where each main character is going to start out. I have started writing but I'm having difficulty choosing where the book should begin. The books I like and from what advice I have read online say to throw your character into danger as soon as possible. So here are my choices-

I have 4 main characters, lets just call them character 1-4.

Character 1 is joining a mysterious and elite military unit, so I was unable to think of a way to use her in the opening chapter as her intro is going to be mostly talking with an army recruiter who is trying to talk her out of what she is doing.

Is it likely that someone at the recruiting sergent stage is going to be joining an elite unit.

Character 2 is a fighter pilot about to launched into the Martian atmosphere to duke it out with some Martian seperatists. He seemed like a good choice but as I was writing I felt like I was throwing too much at the reader at once.

? I assume you don't actually mean fisticuffs given the lack of Oxygen so if it's some fancy flying we're talking about then it might lack the personal touch - or it's a base type area, but why would he be fighting the enemy on what I assume is home turf?

Character 3 is a naval cadet about to board her first starship, so she is not a good candidate to throw into certain mortal peril.

No I agree, she should be introduced calmly IMO. However, why are all these people not battle hardened kick you in the groin types who can handle themselves day one. Now if she was the battle hardened twist your nuts and stab you in the face type character she could easily get down and dirty within a fight scene. Also I personally like a female main character that takes no prisoners, but hey that just me.

Character 4 is a Marine private about to drop into the same battle as Character 2 is fighting in. I have settled on starting out with his point of view because it starts out in a blacked out drop pod, the jitters of a private going into his first gunfight. I thought I could use this as a vehicle to slowly introduce the reader into the universe without being too jarring and focus on the human aspect instead of the technological one. Just a man in a drop pod with his thoughts as the clock counts down. This accomplishes my goal throwing the reader straight into the action, and I can weave in Character two in the next chapter where the reader will have gotten their feet grounded in the setting and I can focus on some more of the tech side of things with space/upper atmosphere combat.

See above. You start by saying you want to throw someone into the fire and yet with this one you want a slow introduction. Contradiction I think I spy.

My only other idea was to use a throw away character who is exploring the depths of space and coming into contact with the main bad guys of the story, doomsday types you know the ones if you ever read a space opera. I had thought of opening with a human starship making a first exploratory jump into an alien star system and discovering the baddies before trying to run and getting blasted to pieces. This would accomplish the goal jumping straight into the action and establishing the greater threat and framing it against the small conflict stuff I am opening with.

Sacrificial character loss can work well. Especially if its the brother sister of one of the others. It gived the option for the

"I'm gonna make you ba----rds pay for what you did to my ..."

scene if such is your want.

I do agree with @The Judge that this smells prologue and I'm one of those that don't like such things.

They should be written out of the book writers handbook IMO



I would love some feedback, this is my first post here and I am excited to have a group of people to talk with about my first book.
 
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msstice

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(I have very little experience writing novels - I'm writing my first one). I revised the start of my story several times. I believe this was a mistake. Now that I am 60% of the way through with actual writing and 100% know the full plot, I now know how I will start the story. I think this is not uncommon.

So, for the first draft just get it down. Later on you will have better context and understanding which will allow you to better craft a better opening.
 

Deke

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Y’all are all great. Thanks for all the advice and ideas. I hammered out an opening and just kept writing, I was getting bogged down trying to craft the perfect opening line and chapter.

TheEndIsNigh I have answers for most of your questions, most of it will make sense down the road. I’ll probably make a post in a few days asking for some character evaluations once I have a few more pages knocked out and feel a bit more into the process.

All of my main characters are pretty young, mostly out of necessity but I feel like it might be a mistake to not have one veteran in there. Not sure yet!

Once again thanks everyone for the advice, I think the trick is just to write and stop getting bogged down trying to be perfect in the rough draft of a first ever book.
 

Susan Boulton

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I am not keen on the, "sacrificial character trope," been very over used both in books, comics, film and TV. Often called, "stuffed in the fridge, or fridging" See here. Stuffed into the Fridge - TV Tropes.

As others have said, you need a hook, it doesn't have to be an action scene, just something to draw the reader in and get them to want to read more.

Also, just a suggestion. Don't limit your characters. I have often found out that as you are writing a character pops into your mind and worms their way into the story.

Oh and if you are working on "fight scenes," in low G take a look at some of those in, "The Expanse," series. The books not the TV series. I don't mean copy them, but it could give you an idea on how your characters can move.
 

Deke

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(I have very little experience writing novels - I'm writing my first one). I revised the start of my story several times. I believe this was a mistake. Now that I am 60% of the way through with actual writing and 100% know the full plot, I now know how I will start the story. I think this is not uncommon.

So, for the first draft just get it down. Later on you will have better context and understanding which will allow you to better craft a better opening.
Yeah this is it, 100%. I’m just going to write and once I get a better feel I can come back and work on a big sexy hook.
 

Toby Frost

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I'm not all that fond of the last idea either: I think George Martin does introduce characters and kill them off immediately, but it's a bit risky and does feel like an unnecessary prologue.

Any of the other four, to my mind, could be really interesting if written well. My feeling is that you don't necessarily need violent action to start this kind of novel (or any other, really). I think an opening ought to involve a change in the existing situation, at least one interesting question that will be answered if the reader keeps reading, and preferably some sort of dynamism in the lead character (so not just things happening to them, but them making some sort of decision).

One of the problems with immediate action is that you need to explain a certain amount - sometimes, not much - about who the character is and what's going on, which can be difficult in the chaos of dramatic action. Personally, I'd go with the first option, but I reckon any of them could be made into a strong place to start the story.
 

DLCroix

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Mars ... I see a problem with that. From the Martian Chronicles onwards it must be the planet that has been written the most, I guess you know the phrase: "it has more rolls than a Martian pistol and all that" , but does it matter that your story it is there? Otherwise, you have to consider the particular environment that Mars has, red planet, 300-day year, closeness to Earth, etc.
By the way, the pod descent has a lot of the game Halo and Quake 3 if I remember correctly (and the visual imagery of Halo is based on Starship Troopers and Aliens, which does look too much like the design of the troops hammer transport to that of Alien 2, huh? With the rifle thing you can tell they went bald thinking). So much gives the trite of the space infantry plot against aliens, but even if it is your first novel, what are those marines going to Mars? What is it that is fighting? Why? They are three simple questions but the answers that you imagine, whatever they may be, because obviously each author has different answers, they already begin to give you an identity. You see, I repeat that we are aware that it is your first novel, but as you evolve you will notice that the initial plots begin to seem childish, basic, so I advise you to take short steps, setting easy goals to achieve. As a first thing, all this court of villains and sinister writers gives you the warmest welcome. We did not expect less either, because we do not close even in the New Year, we are always writing or throwing things at our heads. As a second thing, I recommend you become an expert on Heinlein and Haldeman like this but right now. And if you are into nostalgic, of course Bradbury. Obviously you must have seen Starship Troopers but the movie is not enough. :ninja:

By the way, be careful to start with an action scene right away. Because then what comes next? And then? And after that? Starting out like this is actually the most wonderful way to get hung up halfway, like having diarrhea when you're with your girlfriend. The downside is that ignoring how the story ends is like playing live and forgetting the song. Well, having a schedule or plot of the line of events is not a big deal either, because the plot always changes. But it helps.

Another recommendation is that you start a new word document and start creating names. A lot. You need at least two pages and I tell you from experience. That will prevent your boys from being in the middle of a shootout but you have to think, at that moment, when your characters are surrounded by baddies, what is that or that other called. It is identical to getting up from your desk to consult to a dictionary.
 
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paranoid marvin

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From the perspective of a reader, I agree that it's important to start with a good hook in the first chapter whilst trying not to dump too much information.

How about having a family confrontation where one of your protagonists is arguing with a partner/family about joining the armed forces?
 

Rufus Coppertop

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Throw the character into danger too quickly and the reader may shrug and wonder why they should care about someone they don't know and someone the author can't be bothered introducing.

Spend too long introducing a character and their lovable quirks and funny little ways and the reader may roll their eyes and give up because there's no action.

Your Character 4 Option might be a good one. Heinlein began Starship Troopers in that very same way.
 
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