There are many ways to start a novel, but sometimes how to begin just eludes you. Well, here are 30 possible ways to start a novel (or a scene, for that matter) to give you some inspiration:
1.The arrival of a letter, email, or package. (The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield.)
This could be momentous. However, it could simply tell the reader about the character’s everyday life, such as a distasteful private message on a dating site.
2. A main character in a frustrating situation.
This can also give the reader a feel for her everyday life, while making them empathise with her right away. Maybe her car has broken down, or her cat is puking.
3. A main character in an awkward or embarrassing situation.
Maybe her cat is puking on the lap of a visitor she was trying to impress.
4. The discovery of a dead body. (Thief of Shadows, Elizabeth Hoyt. Also about a million mysteries.)
5. The death of somebody in the family or the community. (All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy; The Known World, Edward P. Jones.)
This is a popular one, and understandably so, because an ending is a new beginning.
6. The beginning or the middle of a disaster. (All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, kind of.)
It could be a bombing, a plane crash, or a tornado.
7. The aftermath of a disaster. (Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston.)
8. A kiss.
9. A performance, or the conclusion of one. (Bel Canto, Ann Patchett. This also has a kiss in it!)
10. A main character in the hospital. (Kindred, Octavia Butler.)
11. A main character declaring that he is in big trouble. (The Martian, Andy Weir.) The first line of The Martian is, “I’m pretty much fucked.” But your character’s situation could be somewhat less dire: “I had no chance of doing well that morning.”
12. A main character who’s clearly in big trouble. (What Is the What, Dave Eggers.)
She might be getting mugged or running from Nazi soldiers. Readers will start caring about her immediately.
13. The arrival of a plane, ship, or train. (The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas.)
The character might be on board, or he might be watching it come in.
14. A scene at a party, a bar, or a nightclub. (War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy; The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss.)
15. A fight. (The Warrior, Zoë Archer.)
The character may be part of the fight, or just witnessing it.
16. A character moving in to a new place.
It could be a neighborhood, a dorm room, or a new country.
17. A broad statement about one’s life. (One For the Money, Janet Evanovich.)
One For the Money begins, “There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me — not forever, but periodically.” That’s a great hook.
18. A dramatic moment in the middle or end of the story. (The Secret History, Donna Tartt.)
You can begin here and then backtrack to explain how they got there. For instance, the prologue of The Secret History begins, “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”
19. A trial in a courtroom. (Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson; also an example of #18.)
A milder version of this could be your character faces a judge or jury in the form of a parent, a manager, or a peer.
20. A job interview.
I really like this idea because you could get a lot of information across about your character naturally. She might be giving appropriate answers while her internal monologue tells you the rest of the story. Also, an applicant at a job interview is in a vulnerable position, which I think would create empathy for your heroine right away.
21. A main character meets someone new. (Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë)
A stray cat? A future lover? Someone important, probably.
22. A street scene. (Perdido Street Station, China Miéville.)
Your character could be getting an errand done or going to visit somebody. For a novel that takes place in an historical, futuristic, or fantasy setting, this can be a good way to establish a sense of place as well as establish your character’s normal life and priorities.
23. A main character in a triumphant situation.
Set her up before you knock her down. She could be giving a speech, winning a race, or accepting an award. It could also be a smaller personal triumph, such as successfully fixing a car or turning in her term paper on time.
24. A character or characters getting dressed, shaving, putting makeup on, or doing their hair. (The Makioka Sisters, Junichiro Tanizaki.)
25. A big, happy occasion such as a wedding or a graduation.
Of course, it might or might not be happy for your main character, who may be a participant or someone in the audience.
26. One character teaching another how to do something.
This is another way to establish your main character’s personality and his everyday life. If he’s a father, he could be teaching his son to hunt or to cook rice properly. If he’s an insurance salesperson, he could be giving the new guy some tips.
27. A visitor showing up at the door. (The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler.)
The main character might be the visitor or the person answering the door.
28. A main character coming across a significant object.
It could be a photograph of a lover she intended to forget, or strange relic that turns out to be magical.
29. A character committing a crime.
He might be the main character, or he might be the antagonist.
30. A character or characters completing a task. (Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens.)
This could be an unusual or startling task, or a more ordinary one with emotional significance.
By now, your creative juices should be spilling over. So hop to it! 🙂