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Beginnings

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Dec. 31, 2016
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Happy New Year’s Eve!
Thinking about the new year that is just about to begin, I thought to talk about beginnings in stories, and especially in webcomics.

How a story begins, the very first pages of it, are key for catching the audience’s attention and keeping it. The audience decides if they want to commit and invest their time (and possible emotional investment) in the story in three, maybe four or five pages.
So these pages have to be visually engaging and narratively engaging.
And somehow it seems to me (and I have no evidence to support this, it’s just a feeling) that the narrative strategy to how the story opens is slightly more important to the art itself.
There are several ways to open a story.
From the most logical, linear “start at the very beginning” method, to starting from the middle of the story, to even starting at the end!
However the method itself is not a guarantee that it will make your story opening engaging. I’ve experienced all types being super interesting and super boring.

What then, makes it engaging?

It’s establishing the stakes.
Even before the characters are introduced enough to be engaging, if the stakes are communicated to the audience in a powerful way, then the audience’s interest is going to be kept. The promise of exploring the stakes, the trust that builds between the creator and the audience that the characters will carry the story through and resolve what needs resolving is enough to keep a reader turning the pages after those first few that set it up.

What do you think? Does any of this ring true for you and your story?

comment

anonymous?

Udyr at 6:16AM, Jan. 2, 2017

That picture in this article is just so much.... I cant stop laughing. Setting the scene is important and its funny you mention the switching through pages. I do that with webcomics but also books and magazines! But often we look for signs to make us interested either dialogue or artwise. I have a bad habbit of reading almost at the end of books and comics, since often thats where the goodies are xD not the best way to do it, i know...

bravo1102 at 7:09PM, Dec. 31, 2016

Then there is "setting the scene". The beginning being creating a system, routine or even a way of life that the rest of the work will spend deconstructing or even destroying. One example of this would be the opening of "Fiddler on the Roof" The opening number introduces the whole village and way of life that will be challenged by Tevye's daughters and eventually destroyed in a pogrom. Or The infamous calm before the storm ending showing ano idyllic panorama of life in Pearl Harbor when you already know the ending is the Japanese attack.

bravo1102 at 6:15PM, Dec. 31, 2016

Laurence Block said to write your first two chapters and then in the finished manuscript reverse them. Sometimes starting at the beginning can lead to endless prologues and walls of text as the writer tells you the history of the world up to that time. In a recent Peanuts Linus was doing his classic retelling of the nativity except this time he started with all the begats that establish Jesus's lineage from David. Bad beginning. You don't hook an audience with a history lesson. A few words of introduction and the a solid hook to get them into the story. The overview can happen in chapter 2. That's why Mr. Block suggested switching the first two chapters.

KimLuster at 3:20PM, Dec. 31, 2016

Totally agree that a story has to grab you early... If I'm not hooked by page 50 I'll usually give up on it...!! But Banes is totally right! Any page has to be able to capture you! When I peruse a book at a store, I'll usually just open to some random page in the middle and start reading, see how it hits me... If it does, then I'll flick to a couple more and then read page 1. This is true for webcomics by default, as most you do see the most recent page first and then you'll look back at a few see if it has it for you. But the beginning has to be there for you to fave it!!

Rival Comics at 2:51PM, Dec. 31, 2016

I've always had the best luck starting at the end or a random point within the timeline of the story than starting from the beginning. I've often stuck to very non-liner storytelling, too, allowing each page to jump around the events in the opening scenes and leaving it to the reader to piece together. I'm getting ready to start a new comic in 2017, and, other than the opening scene, I plan on basically starting at the beginning and telling the story in chronological order. I hope it works out!

ozoneocean at 1:38PM, Dec. 31, 2016

You have to grab them initially... But the tone and expectations could change from there... But yes! Catch them and catch them good!

ozoneocean at 1:34PM, Dec. 31, 2016

Great topic tantz!

Tantz_Aerine at 11:16AM, Dec. 31, 2016

The night was sultry, damn it! (I love that movie too!) ANd all excellent points Banes, for the webcomics. Each page needs to basically be a tiny micro episode and keep the interest as if it was page one.

Banes at 9:58AM, Dec. 31, 2016

I love Throw Mama From the Train, by the way! Hilarious, and it has amazing discussions of how to begin a story! "The night was moist."

Banes at 9:57AM, Dec. 31, 2016

That can apply to any page, too, especially because of the way webcomics are read. We often start at the most recent page, read backwards for a couple pages, then maybe start from the beginning (or maybe just continue with the comic going forward if we don't want to read the archive). Every page of a webcomic is a potential page one for someone!

Banes at 9:56AM, Dec. 31, 2016

I think page one has to at least raise an interesting question in the readers' minds (or several questions). That will keep them moving to the next page - if they want to know what's comes next. What the character wants, what the stakes are, who the Antagonist is...that can show up over multiple pages, but if the question is there one page one, and it's interesting and engaging, you have a beginning!


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