Take a moment to imagine your favorite novel, but without the beginning. We meet the characters halfway through their journey, skipping the part where we grow to love them, consequently do you think we really care when they step up to the chopping block? Do you think we're going to jump up from our chairs, the novel spread out in front of us in our hands, cheering them on in the sword fight? Not if we hadn't read that he had saved his best friend from a burning building, earning a scar on his forearm, I doubt it.
Beginnings are for making us love the characters and maybe even give a care about what happens to them, but that's not the only thing they do. For one, they add depth to the plot.
So what if David is swimming in his mother's pool, why should I care? Well, if I had read the beginning maybe I would have found out that David was born of the fire element and can't touch water. But I wouldn't know would I, because I hadn't read the beginning.
Imagine a slide. A good beginning should act as ladder. It may not be as smooth or fast as the ride down, but a ladder is essential if you want to get on top of a ladder. Each step of the ladder if a detail laid out by the beginning.
Ah, me and my diagrams. Anyways, in case you can't see the ladder as best as you want to, here is a bigger version....
Boom - Shock your readers with some action right away to grab them by the heads and drag them into your story.
Swish - Let your MC's clean up the mess and dish out some of the details.
Boom - More action! ...Leading up to the climax.
Point Two - No Hitting Them While they're Down
Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT, hit them while they are down. This type of behavior is reserved for the sliding part of the slide (Climax, falling action, etc.) not the beginning. You need to build up to this point, do not use all your resources right away. The beginning is the smooth part, not the choppy, closing in from all sides falling action.
Point Three - Show Some Love
Show some point of empathy somewhere in your story. Even if your story is a Gothic thriller with zombies and machine guns, make your MC show his affection for his cat. This lets the reader know that your MC is still a person.
Point Four - Introductions
Most everything your character needs/will need to solve the mystery is revealed the beginning. Family, spies, secret information, clues, recipes, and all that good stuff. Make sure you give a reasonable amount of time in between introductions so we have time to digest it. You can't shove it all at us at once but you can't spread it so evenly apart it becomes a rhythm. Don't be afraid to shock us off our feet but don't trust us enough to have us catch a great big ball of new things that snowballing down the page.
So I think that sums it up. We talked about the purpose of beginnings being to make us fall in love with the characters and add depth to the plot. We went over four points to remember when writing a good beginning; boom swish boom theory, no hitting them while they're down, showing some love, and introductions. A good beginning will bring all of the reader's emotions into the story, if you can do that, then you are pretty well off.
Good luck with your writing and have a good week!
What's your favorite way of introducing a character? Do you have any advice to share about writing beginnings?