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How to start and end a story

Compelling beginnings and reader-happy endings 

The start and end of your story are perhaps the two most crucial elements. At the beginning, you need to draw a reader into your world and have them wanting to read more. And at the end, you want to leave them feeling satisfied that everything was wrapped-up. So – have I piqued your interest enough for you to read on? Then let us begin... 

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How not to start a book  

Last week, I wrote about some of the patterns I spot in the submissions I read. This week is a continuation from that, but about the top five ways I see books starting. It's not necessarily that these are wrong, but when you’re reading a stack of submissions, these beginnings get old, fast.  

1: BOOM! Something awful has happened in the first paragraph. Oh my, how dramatic, how—oh no wait – it turns out that dramatic thing was all a ploy to get me interested. It was a false alarm – a misunderstanding. (The advice for starting a story is to have something happen – but make this relevant to your story.) 

2: We are eating breakfast/lunch/dinner at a kitchen table. (So many start with this!) 

3: We are waking up. (Same as above.) 

4: BOOM! Someone is DEAD! They die right here on the first page and there is a lot of crying / shaking / screaming. Only I don’t care enough about the characters yet, so I’m left a little cold. (I start books with dead people too. It can make a good beginning, just tone down the dramatics on the first page, or move the death to the end of the chapter, after some tension-building.) 

5: The narrator tells you that if only they knew what was to come, they never would have [said yes / left the house / cleaned the carpet – whatever]. (Some agents actively hate the phrase “little did they know”.) 

**Disclaimer** - If you see your beginning on this list, don’t worry too much. There are no rules to say you can’t use these, and I’ve seen examples from all five work well! If you do think something might not be working with your opening though, I hope these help get to the bottom of it. 

What are the patterns you spot in the openings to books? Are there any tropes in published books that turn you off? Sign up for free and share your thoughts in the Townhouse, here.  

Sarah J x 

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