The first words you write don’t have to be the first words a reader reads. Not all writers write chronologically and even writers who do sometimes have an idea then realise that something needs to go before it. As with any other part of a first draft the beginning doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. I think if I were to re-write the beginning of the Weekly Serial it wouldn’t be the same as it is now I’m further into the story, but more on writing serialised fiction later.
There are many ways to begin a story; it can be chronological, flashback, flash forward, a dream, a monologue and many more I couldn’t possibly list in a single article. There are no rules about how you can or can’t begin a novel there are suggestions that just that, suggestions.
My preferred method is to jump straight into the story rather than have long descriptions or mythology or anything else that can slow a story down. However, if that doesn’t work for you then that’s fine too but my reasoning is that if someone picks up a copy of the book or reads a preview it will probably be the beginning. If this is the case then you only have a certain amount of pages to grab a reader’s attention. This doesn’t mean you have to start with a bang but rather start with an immediate ‘this is the protagonist, this is where they are, this is what’s happening.’ Taking the first story of the serial Hysteria, for instance, it begins with Charlotte going to a gentleman’s club in 1838, it’s made clear she doesn’t belong there and she’s there to see someone. Who, where, what. The ‘why’ is the story so we learn that later on in the episode.
Another method is to start with something slightly different to the rest of the story, usually separated as a prologue. For example in a murder mystery we might begin with the victim being murdered then skip to the detective getting the case. Using another character’s perspective, especially if it won’t feature again, can be tricky. The problem with this is that it needs to relate directly to the story, which is generally the best policy for any part of editing.
There are methods of opening a story with a bit of mythology from your fictional world but once again it needs to be related to the story. A reader might be disappointed to read a few pages on a world’s history, or a side jaunt into mythology and then discover that it doesn’t relate to the rest of the story, like trying to put a jigsaw piece in the wrong place. I don’t want to discourage people but I would suggest asking yourself if you really need this extra information or if it could be relayed some other way or if it’s simply unnecessary. It might even turn out that it’s the right beginning but it’s attached to the wrong story.
As with endings if the beginning doesn’t seem to be working then try a different one. That is what first drafts and editing are for, to find the best way to tell your story and that is rarely the first way you write it.