Starting a novel can feel like walking across a minefield. The pressure is on. Danger is everywhere. If we fail too terribly, readers might toss our book aside and miss out on the awesome story we had in store.
Instead of letting the hazards overwhelm us, let’s focus on two mistakes that make readers skeptical of our storytelling abilities: excessive storyworld references and backstory info dumps. These problems stem from an unsteady relationship with readers that, if corrected, can set our story on the right path.
We need to establish a mutual relationship of trust with our readers at the start of our story. They must have confidence that we’re skilled enough to take them on an epic journey. We need to believe that they aren’t idiots.
Why? If we don’t have faith in readers, we’ll overcompensate and overexplain.
For example, when I was writing my third book, I had trust issues. I worried that my fantasy world would confuse readers if I failed to familiarize them with a bunch of names and references in my first few chapters. So I tried.
It didn’t work. Adding all those new terms confused readers more than it educated them. It kept readers from focusing on the narrative. If I had trusted them and explained those storyworld elements when they were important, my story’s beginning would have been smoother.
Readers don’t expect the author to hand them a character’s backstory on a silver platter. They’re smart. They’ll discover who a character is as they go.
This is challenging to remember. One of our worst fears is that readers won’t grow attached to our character. As a result, we might shove a bunch of backstory exposition down reader’s throats in an attempt to gain their empathy early on.
If we expose a character’s past like this, the mystery and subtext behind her are destroyed. Sure, a super sad backstory might gain a reader’s pity, but it doesn’t make them love a character for who she is and how she acts.
When we start our story, we must fight the fear that readers won’t connect with our MC. We need to resist the temptation to force their empathy and let our character be herself.
Yes, beginnings are still scary. Yes, there are realms of other mistakes to make. But trusting readers like they trust us will help us wander between the pressure points.
What do you think are the biggest errors writers make when writing their beginnings? What are some beginning mistakes you’ve made and learned from? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
The Introvert (A.K.A. Gabrielle R. Pollack)