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Trope of the Month Trope of the Month! January: Beginnings

Thesaurus rex
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For the first Trope of the Month, it seems only appropriate that we begin with beginnings! The start of a story is a big topic in itself, with any number of associated tropes, clichés, and patterns. In Pokémon fanfiction, probably the most well-known beginning cliché is the main character jumping out of bed on their birthday, ready and hopelessly eager to receive their very first pokémon. It's a cliché that inspires a lot of eye-rolling and weary sighs, since usually the chapter that follows is little different to any other story that begins this way. This video here discusses first chapters, and how they have to do the job of getting across to the reader what kind of story will follow:


First lines, too, hold particular importance in beginnings - as the beginning of the beginning, if you like. Advice written for authors looking to be published has perhaps exaggerated the importance of the first line to almost mythical status, where the object is not just to get the reader's attention but also to secure the savagely critical eye of the publishing house. I'm inclined to think you could write and rewrite a first line again and again, trying to make it more attention-worthy. For fanfiction, perhaps the stress isn't always worth it.

So what do you think? What do you think makes for a good first chapter? How do you come up with first lines?
 
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I used to stress a lot about first lines, but I think the first paragraph is a more appropriate degree of "zoom" for making a first impression. Furthermore, while it is true that the opening lines of a story will leave a strong impression, most people don't decide to read stories purely on that. I think you have to trust that your synopsis will draw in people who appreciate your premise, and your prose throughout will keep them reading.
 
Shinobu's Pet Wolf
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How do you come up with first lines?
TL;DR: I mainly base it by the initial setting and what's going on, and giving myself enough restrictions to figure out how I want the first lines to be.
Sometimes basing the first few lines by the initial setting and what's going on fails me when I give myself too much freedom. The beginning setting of Katakura (any of them) is a Japanese high school, and I decided to open all three up in pretty much the same way: having the students in the class introduce themselves during morning homeroom after the opening ceremony. Limiting myself in that way made it a little easier to figure how exactly I wanted to do it for each story.

A lot of the previous things I've written have given me trouble starting off (because of the freedom), but I think that's changing as I start building enough of the story's world before a word ever hits the text document. I used to write in stream of consciousness a lot, which usually means I end up with a roadblock of "what comes next?" because I have nothing to go off of. I started writing The Consortium's Traipse back in high school as a stream of consciousness piece, and it worked for a while until I hit the aforementioned roadblock. What enabled me to continue and finish it was a detail I had wrote about earlier in the story that I overlooked a number of times when reading it over to figure out what comes next, and after that spark, I was able to figure out the next set of actions pretty quickly from there.
 
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There's a trope name for a character waking up in the morning: "Good morning, Crono!" I think you can tell where that comes from.

I try to avoid writing characters waking up as the first scene of a chapter and do different things, like, in some of my more recent works: Characters reading, in a car heading someplace, preparing for a future event in the story, so on and so forth. As for everything else, I just kinda write my openings the way I want to based on how I plan my story out. Simple as that.
 
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I'm not entirely sold on opening lines being terribly important. Any reasonable person is going to read the first page at least. That's a much more forgiving space to hook your reader and give a general impression of setting and tone.

I love the idea the video suggested of doing a mini three act structure for the opening scene. I think there's an argument to be made for structuring all scenes in a similar way, but that's a debate for another time. Such a structure helps show how your characters act in a moment of conflict (which presumably is indicative of the kinds of conflict that will appear in the story) as well as how you as the author write those conflicts. There are plenty of different things that can grab me as a reader, but personally a writer's ability and whether or not I like the characters are probably the biggest.
 
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I was taught that an opening line should either convey an idea, create an image or demonstrate character. Usually, the more succinct and memorable it is, the better.

However, I agree with those saying it's given too much importance, at least as far as the average reader is concerned. It becomes important when you're trying to win over an editor who has a hundred manuscripts to read, but they're a special case. Most readers will at least read the first page of any book.

Nonetheless, I think any first paragraph and, by extension, any first chapter should cut straight to the point. I want to know who the protagonist is what their deal is as soon as possible. Ideally, I also want an idea of the story's central conflict. You can show me a character's personality gradually over the course of the whole story, but to begin with, I want to know what they want and why they can't get it.

As far as Pokemon stories go, the first episode of the show is a useful reference. Episode one communicates what Ash wants (to be a Pokemon Master) and why he will struggle to get that (he's incompetent). It tells a self-contained story packed with conflict from beginning to end, and leaves me wanting to follow Ash's journey.

So I guess to put it more plainly, a good first chapter sets-up a conflict the reader will be interested in, and that can done by showing us the protagonist's key flaw.

Going back to first lines, I tend to leave it entirely, or write a place-holder, before returning to it later. I find it's easier to come up with something interesting when you know the content of the chapter.
 
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Something I've found myself increasingly saying in regards to the good old journeyfic is that I like the beginning of the story to be given time to breathe. The cliché, which still holds reasonably true, is that the first chapter of a classic journeyfic will be a breakneck rush through the stations of the plot: wake up, bye to mom, professor's lab, starter, rival battle, first route, huzzah. I think authors writing like that see it as so much detail to get out of the way, which suggests two solutions:

1. Start the story where the plot starts, and convey those details as backstory (AetherX's Unpredictable did this).
2. Treat these details as part of the story in their own right, and give them appropriate page space (AceTrainer14's How To Conquer Kanto in Eight Easy Steps did this).

I think epics, or at least big stories, withstand this better. A Game of Thrones to my mind doesn't really get to the point in the first chapter, at least as far as the plot is concerned. Really, George Martin is more concerned with building atmosphere and showing off a little worldbuilding in the first few chapters of the book than he is in getting the plot started.
 
Shinobu's Pet Wolf
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Going back to first lines, I tend to leave it entirely, or write a place-holder, before returning to it later.
I kinda like this idea and I might use it in future stories.
 
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Many stories have a Prologue. They are often used to help set up the story, the background. Sure, Chapter 1 can be used for the same purpose. I have read in other places that Prologues should be avoided. I on the other hand think otherwise. If done well, it can work. So, my question to be discussed is: What are ways to make these effective for one's story?
 
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Since Prologues and beginnings go hand in hand, it seems worth discussing here - and to that end, I suppose authors are advised to avoid prologues is because so many stories have them pretty much out of habit. The difference between a prologue and a first chapter is kinda blurry and a matter for literary theory, but I tend to think that if the events of the first chapter simply follow on directly from the prologue, the prologue always was really chapter one
 
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Since Prologues and beginnings go hand in hand, it seems worth discussing here - and to that end, I suppose authors are advised to avoid prologues is because so many stories have them pretty much out of habit. The difference between a prologue and a first chapter is kinda blurry and a matter for literary theory, but I tend to think that if the events of the first chapter simply follow on directly from the prologue, the prologue always was really chapter one
I guess that makes sense. Of course, it depends on how you write the prologue. Like the prologue ends with someone going to sleep or passing out and Chapter 1 is when they wake up.
 
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There are a lot of good ways and bad ways to start a story, and from what I've observed nobody can agree on what falls under what category. The only real advice I can give is to make sure the tone is established early. If there's anything you can accomplish with a beginning, it's hooking your intended audience.

My prologue contains action, mystery, and intrigue, and also sets the tone that my main character is probably not going to have a fun time, as it opens with him getting stabbed a lot. This is followed by something that seems like a dream, but is quickly revealed (within the same prelude) to not be one, and that it in fact actually happened. This, while answering the original question, gives rise to so many more... And I'd definitely say that sets the tone for the story proper.

As for if it's effective or not, though, jury's out. Starting in the middle of action is a risky move to take, but starting boring is also risky, particularly for PMD that's so prone to slow starts. You can't win, so don't let the paralysis stop you from getting anything out at all.
 
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There are a lot of good ways and bad ways to start a story, and from what I've observed nobody can agree on what falls under what category. The only real advice I can give is to make sure the tone is established early. If there's anything you can accomplish with a beginning, it's hooking your intended audience.

My prologue contains action, mystery, and intrigue, and also sets the tone that my main character is probably not going to have a fun time, as it opens with him getting stabbed a lot. This is followed by something that seems like a dream, but is quickly revealed (within the same prelude) to not be one, and that it in fact actually happened. This, while answering the original question, gives rise to so many more... And I'd definitely say that sets the tone for the story proper.

As for if it's effective or not, though, jury's out. Starting in the middle of action is a risky move to take, but starting boring is also risky, particularly for PMD that's so prone to slow starts. You can't win, so don't let the paralysis stop you from getting anything out at all.
Yeah. there is a definite balance that needs to be met when it comes to the beginning.
 
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Something I've been thinking about on and off these past few days - related to the idea of the prologue, I suppose - is "begin at the beginning". I've seen a few attempts to give context to a story by reeling off backstory, which tends to end up being trivia because it's not clear what, if any, bearing it really has on the narrative. I think this is probably the stodgiest way of doing things when it involves canon characters given minor to inconsequential changes to their canon histories
 
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I think there's a tendency in young amateur authors to get very excited over massive lore and backstory in novels (or TV shows, movies, video games) they enjoy, or that are popular, and they think, "Oh, that's important. Let's do that." Prose fiction is not the best medium for frontloading a ton of background information. Background information isn't a story. It's trivia, and context, and context is fun to figure out.
 
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I think there's a tendency in young amateur authors to get very excited over massive lore and backstory in novels (or TV shows, movies, video games) they enjoy, or that are popular, and they think, "Oh, that's important. Let's do that." Prose fiction is not the best medium for frontloading a ton of background information. Background information isn't a story. It's trivia, and context, and context is fun to figure out.
oh, absolutely. if you have your reader asking "is this gonna be on the test", you should really look into providing information in a more natural way.
 
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oh, absolutely. if you have your reader asking "is this gonna be on the test", you should really look into providing information in a more natural way.
The answer is yes, yes it is going to be on the test.
 
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I think there's a tendency in young amateur authors to get very excited over massive lore and backstory in novels (or TV shows, movies, video games) they enjoy, or that are popular, and they think, "Oh, that's important. Let's do that." Prose fiction is not the best medium for frontloading a ton of background information. Background information isn't a story. It's trivia, and context, and context is fun to figure out.
Big agree. I don't start at the beginning for my story -- in fact, in a chronological sense, my main work starts near the very end of the story, if only because of how much background there is leading up to it. The important part is not dumping it all on the reader at once--partly because it ruins the tension, and partly because it won't make sense unless it's revealed contextually. If you can frame your story like that, you'll be able to balance intrigue with info.
 
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I really wish I'd started the current version of Different Eyes later on in the story than I did, and repeatedly flash back or write chapters set in the past for additional context. On the other hand, I'm not such a good planner (nor in possession of a sufficiently good memory) that I could have prepared myself to write that adequately. That's a difficult task.
 
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