Thinking about writing a story or a book? I’ve been writing stories for a while now. I think we often start writing because we have something to share. Years later, we begin to figure out that the craft of writing stories is more complex than we first thought.

Part of writing great fiction is knowing how and when to begin your narrative. Those first few sentences are crucial. Here are a few tips to help you find your way through the start of your narrative.

1. Build momentum.
The first cardinal rule of opening lines is that they should possess most of the individual craft elements that make up the story as a whole.

2. Resist the urge to start too early. 
You might be tempted to begin your narrative before the action actually starts, such as when a character wakes up to what will eventually be a challenging or dramatic day. But unless you’re rewriting Sleeping Beauty, waking up is rarely challenging or dramatic. Far better to begin at the first moment of large-scale conflict.

3. Remember that small hooks catch more fish than big ones. 
Many writers are taught that the more unusual or extreme their opening line, the more likely they are to “hook” the reader. But what we’re not taught is that such large hooks also have the power to easily disappoint readers if the subsequent narrative doesn’t measure up.

4. Open at a distance and close in. 
In modern cinema, films commonly begin with the camera focused close up on an object and then draw back panoramically. This technique rarely works in prose. Most readers prefer to be “grounded” in context and then to focus in. Open your story accordingly.

5. Avoid getting ahead of your reader. 
One of the easiest pitfalls in starting a story is to begin with an opening line that is confusing upon first reading, but that makes perfect sense once the reader learns additional information later in the story. The problem is that few readers, if confused, will ever make it that far.