I’ve heard a lot of advice over the years, but I think the most worthy advice to me was from a writer who once said, the best way to start a story is with a single truth.
And although this has worked well for me, another favorite method I use is to start with an image. For me, there’s no better way to enter a story than with a picture. And the book I’ve just started – The Library at Mount Char – truly supports this.
Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78. Most of the librarians, Carolyn included, had come to think of this road as the Path of Tacos, so-called in honor of a Mexican joint they snuck out to sometimes. The guacamole, she remembered, is really good. Her stomach rumbled. Oak leaves, reddish-orange and delightfully crunch, crackled underfoot as she walked. Her breath puffed white in the predawn air. The obsidian knife she had used to murder Detective Miner lay nestled in the small of her back, sharp and secret. (Hawkins 1)
This by far has been one of the most brilliant introductions for a book. Already within the first sentence I get the main character, an image, a hook for curiosity, and some characterization. With only two words – blood-drenched – the reader is brought into the story with a sense of wonder and curiosity, thinking what has happened to the woman so far? She is covered in blood?!
And by calling other people the Americans, we know that Carolyn does not identify with that group of people, already posing her as an outsider.
This paragraph only continues to get better, describing the scenery around her, showing her adoration of human qualities, like cooking, where she reflected on the guacamole. The simple paragraph already showed the simplicity of her life with her stomach rumbling and an obsidian knife, oddly crude in a society that is crowded with manufactured steel knives, etc. Obviously she doesn’t live within civilization.
Then the paragraph ends with the answer for our previous question – who was hurt: Detective Miner. Now we have to keep reading because we have to know why.
Who is this woman that kills with so little remorse? Who is she that she lives outside of society – all the answers contained with the definition of her profession: librarian.
This beginning paragraph did so much with setting, characterization, imagery…it instigated so much curiosity and personality within Carolyn that I was taken with the story rather quickly. I want to thank Scott Hawkins for taking so much care with his beginning because it truly shows.
This paragraph is a great lesson on how to start your novel, and to practice through mimicry is a great way to model your learning.
Hawkins, Scott. The Library at Mount Char. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2015. Print.