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Beginning Strong

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Addison, May 15, 2013.

  1. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    Last edited: May 15, 2013
    Chilari, Guru Coyote and Jess A like this.
  2. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

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    Don't start with a battle scene - already broke that rule (though that's just one guy's opinion). Actually, the town is raided, which introduces the reader to the two main characters (one of the raiders, and the girl trying to escape them) and to the town.

    I take note of 'If I don't care about the character, why should I care about the battle'? My first line is, literally, the raiders bursting out of the trees, and Kirra's observation of them - and her fear.

    Should I write perhaps two lines where Kirra is joining in the celebrations that are taking place that night? Or can I express who the character is through her actions - protecting the children, running away, her bravery etc? Which is what I have done.

    For reference, there is no prologue, this is chapter 1.
     
  3. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Personally, I'm pretty firmly in the "prologues are lazy info dumps" camp. I never read them.

    I would say, if this event is where your two main characters meet, then this is where you should start. Definitely express who Kirra is through her actions - actions speak louder than words, after all. And your raider's actions will speak for him/her as well. Maaaaaybe start with a couple lines about the celebrations, but I think if you can engage the reader with action right off the bat, and I mean clear action where you manage to really clarify time and place in short order rather than random chaos leaving the reader wondering exactly what is going on, then go for it. How much would you say this is a "battle," or is it a raid by armed marauders on a panicked, unarmed and unprepared village? In one, you have two sides fighting, with the reader not knowing why they should pick one side over the other. In the other you create automatic sympathy for the innocent victims, raids by armed assailants on village populations being unfortunately common even in this day and age, and immediately set up your heroine as an underdog your readers can root for.
     
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  4. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

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    I don't have a prologue - the attack happens in chapter 1, which is the start of the book. There is a small time skip between chapter 1 and 2, but I didn't see a need to label chapter 1 a prologue.

    I'm of the same mind as you, regarding showing who Kirra is through the actions - and the raider, since he shows empathy. I'm glad someone else agrees. What I've tried to do is this:

    It's a raid, not really a battle (until the guards arrive to drive them away, but this is a bit later).

    The first line states that the raiders are attacking. They're quite scary, because some of the beasts they ride are somewhat nonsensical. The village is in the midst of harvest celebrations so many people are drunk and the guards are slow to react. The second sentence is Kirra's POV, her fear, and how she reacts next. She urges the children to run, and then whilst hiding, she sees the raiders gathering human slaves (the raiders are not human). The lead raider finds Kirra and the kids, but he lets them go. Through this action, some of his warriors are slaughtered and they only get away with a few slaves (the guards arrive and drive them away). Later the lead raider is banished and Kirra finds him in the woods (no, they do not fall in love!).

    I've got another question. Since the reader is supposed to also get close to my raider in the book, should I write a scene in chapter 1, set shortly after the failed raid, where he is being punished and shouted at for his failure by his superior? I thought it would move too slowly if I did that. So instead, in chapter 2 (set 3 years later), his POV is introduced when he has been in jail already for 3 years and about to be exiled. Kirra finds him in the forest shortly after that. Is this a mistake? Should I get to his POV sooner, or keep chapter 1 in Kirra's POV?

    I hope this makes sense - I'm very brain dead right now.

    Thanks, Addison, for starting this topic - might be useful for people writing intros.
     
  5. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

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    I actually like this article:
    Writer Unboxed » How to Start Your Novel: What The Movie TRUE LIES Taught Me
    Esp. the advice to start your story just the other way around as one would a movie. Too much writing advice these days tries to use mechanics of the screen... Maybe that's because a lot of the good books on creating fiction are actually meant for screen writers...
     
  6. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    The prologue in Winter's Queen is by no means an infodump -- it's simply a short scene from the villain's perspective, offering a taste of his personality and things he'll do in the first chapter, where we meet the hero and heroine. I'm considering merging it with chapter one.
     
  7. Rob P

    Rob P Minstrel

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    For Jess, your difficulties over where you've started could be simplified by having that scene explode for the reader but then quickly pull away so the reader can assess its context. If the action continues the reader may not understand or apply enough meaning to the importance of that scene.

    In general, beginnings that feel right and make sense are difficult. Many people dislike prologues which is understandable when most tend towards great infodumps, which puts my work in a difficult place.

    I originally anticipated a prologue to tell the brief story of an ancient historical event, pivotal for the trilogy and first book and introduce characters that occupy important positions within that triology and one specific character who appears halfway through the first book. Not an infodump but three scenes that depict the event. The rest of the book hints back to these scenes and their consequences with only three characters who have knowledge of that ancient event.

    This prologue would not tell everything of that time just specific scenes, enough to create multitude of questions. Other references throughout the book relate back to other details.

    Question! Should this be a prologue or chapter one, remembering it is not the first chapter of a storyline or character POV?

    If it was going to be a chapter I had thought of calling it "The Fall of Knowledge".

    Regarding it as just Chapter 1 doesn't feel right.
     
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  8. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    For the battle scene, go "inside-out" as the article said. The second one which used "True Lies" as an example. If the raid is important, the inciting incident or such, then start with Kirra's actions. She runs through the town searching for her family, ducking arrows, hiding from the raiders. Then pull back to describe the raiders in their clothes, their weapons gleaming like blood in the fire and then to the town in flames. You started with a character to care for, in crisis, pulled out to show the magnitude and will have readers hooked.
     
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  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I think there's something a lot of people miss about hooks--how you pull the reader in should be relevant to how you keep them in. If you're going to have a story that's not very action-heavy, trying to begin with action probably won't do you much good. To give one example, The Gone-Away World begins with a relatively active sequence in a post-apocalyptic world, then spends half the book slowly, slowly explaining how this world came to be. I stuck it out, and found the second half pretty rewarding, but I don't think the beginning was at all a good way of preparing the reader for what would come next.

    (Personally, my own stories are very, very talky, so I usually have a talky beginning--say, someone trying to convince someone else not to jump off a bridge, or a student in a classroom trying to avoid being humiliated by the teacher.)
     
  10. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    I agree, especially with tone and voice. You don't want to start with one the readers enjoy and switch to a monotone history lesson or something disengaging. Be consistent.
     
  11. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

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    Thanks for your advice. What you describe is along the lines of what I have currently, perhaps - but I haven't moved past the first battle scene yet. I've not even written what comes next (I go back to introductions last, quite often, even with news stories and -especially- with feature writing).

    I've got Kirra fleeing from the raiders. Then I should have a scene where the town is recovering, perhaps, from Kirra's POV?

    I forgot to mention that I also introduce another character whom Kirra can certainly reflect on. That would work in those terms - because this other character arrives in time at the head of some warriors, and though she seems like a saviour, she's quite a dodgy sort and I think Kirra would notice things about her that she likes or doesn't like.

    With regards to your story (and Ireth as well) - prologues can be useful. I used one to show what the villain was doing on the other side of the world. It asked a lot of questions, really, and it was probably along the lines of Raymond Feist's prologues in 'Magician' (etc). I changed the plot, which meant I no longer needed that prologue...but that isn't the point. I felt it was appropriate for that plot at the time. This new plot didn't need a prologue.

    I'm not a fan of info-dump prologues because I have to sift through all this world information that I'd rather read about through action, through the story, through the characters and side-characters. Funny, because they never bothered me when I was younger. I don't know what changed.

    If you feel it should be a prologue, then it should be a prologue. If that's what works for you, roll with it, then get opinions on it. Let me know if it goes into the Showcase forum and I'll have a look.

    This is another great idea. So far my first line has the raiders bursting out of the forest. But now I wonder if it lacks context. Your idea could work beautifully - I think I'll go and rework it and see how it goes. That way, the raiders are seen through Kirra's eyes and through her context (already established by some of her actions/etc) rather than just a separate starting line through nobody's eyes.

    I haven't seen True Lies in ages...I think I own it, though.
     
  12. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

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    I'm not sure if this has been mentioned here before, but another important aspect of "beginnings" might be Orson Scott Card's "M.I.C.E" quotient. Basically the part that applies here is that you should end your tale in the same 'space' as you began it. If you open by describing the landscape, the story should have "Milieu" as its central theme, and esp. end on that note. (Let me find a link that explains this better...)

    M.I.C.E. QUOTIENT

    So if you start out on a battle scene, you'd best be prepared to also end in one.
     
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  13. KRHolbrook

    KRHolbrook Scribe

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    Unfortunately my book begins with the main character in a nightmare. The gods are controlling it, though, and their symbols appear in the nightmare as well when certain events occur. He doesn't know about the gods until later when he finds a book with their symbols in it. Oh well, works for me! :p
     
  14. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

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    Point taken. I'd been wondering how to end the book, to relate it to the start. I do it in articles and stuff all the time (relate start to end), but I haven't even figured out the ending of my book yet.

    But a battle always works. Heh.

    Interesting link, and interesting questions at the bottom.
     
  15. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

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    As this did turn to Endings, a thought just occured to me.

    I think there are two aspects to "a strong beginning":
    One is the way how a new reader is drawn into the story, the hook-quality.
    But another aspect one might overlook regarding 'beginnings' is that often our evaluation of them only happens in hindsight, in memory, looking back after we finished the story/book (when we are asked "did you like it?").
    For the later aspect, the way how beginning and ending relate plays a strong part i think. When the beginning foreshadows what was to happen much later... this makes the beginning *relevant*
    If that is done, the beginning will be so much more memorable!
     
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  16. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    Excellent point.

    An extreme example is Harry Potter. The chapter of wizards talking over Harry's survival works well on its own--but two books later the whole world ran back to those pages to confirm the words "I borrowed it from Sirius Black" and start looking for Rowling's other foreshadowings.

    More often it's for more subtle reasons, about the whole first impression turning out to fit (or not) with what the tale turns out to be.
     
  17. I love Orson Scott Card's take on writing, and I'm very fond of the "full circle" approach to story telling.

    While not a big fan of prologues, I never write them off in a blanket fashion. I always give prologues a chance, just as I give any chapter 1 a chance. If after a page or two, the prologue doesn't grab me, I skip it and move onto chapter 1. (Though chances are, if the prologue of a particular author didn't grab me, their chapter 1 won't grab me either.)

    One of the best openings to a novel I've ever read was the prologue for Game of Thrones.

    A perfectly legitimate and effective use for prologues is to introduce a pov that may not be the main character, but nonetheless is important (or provides an important perspective) for the events of the novel.

    As a general rule of thumb, chapter 1 should always focus on the protagonist. If, however, your story is best started from the pov of someone who is not the protagonist, a prologue may be in order. Ireth's prologue, mentioned earlier, which introduces the villain would probably be a good example of this.
     
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