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Beginning with a story

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Caged Maiden, Apr 8, 2012.

  1. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    In the opening scene of my last novel I opened with one person telling a story to another. Is there a reason that would not be advisable? It is the fundamental interaction between the two characters, one telling stories to the other, and they are both young adults (15-16). I thought it fit really nice, and after the tale ends, the two interact immediately, but I was just wondering whether any of you could give some feedback on whether that might be confusing. The story being told is very clearly a fairy tale/ fable, and not particularly long.
     
  2. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Would it help if I posted the part in question into my portfolio or the showcase?
     
  3. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Feel free to post it, I'd like to see exactly what you're talking about here. :)

    From what you've said here, I don't see anything really wrong with it, as long as you make sure to let the characters themselves be the main focus and not the story itself. It's all well and good to start with something like this:

    "...and then the dragon let out a burst of blue flame," Aeryth said fervently, leaning in close to Brina in his enthusiasm for the tale. "The knight leaped aside, but the flames caught the sleeve of his tunic..."

    Brina leaned closer to her friend, nervously chewing on her lip as Aeryth spoke. She'd heard this story a dozen times before, but somehow every time he told it felt like the first.


    ...but I'd advise against starting with the story itself as if it were the actual narrative or even a dream sequence, and then switching to the characters as the story ends or is interrupted, whatever. It feels like a bait-and-switch that way, and might turn away disappointed readers.
     
  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I'll post it for your perusal. I don't want to litter character commentary between the lines, but I don't want to pull the bait-and-switch either. I think in the context it is obvious it is a story, but perhaps if I post it, you can have a better clue how to offer advice. This is the first time I have done this, and I only wanted to do it because storytelling is a critical theme in this book. Thanks I'll get it posted as soon as I can.
     
  5. Leif GS Notae

    Leif GS Notae Closed Account

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    If that opening story doesn't have anything to do with the story you are writing, then yes. You want to avoid it like the plague.

    Your story should tie your beginning and ending together in a package that gives your reader some resolution. If the characters mention the story, and this story guides the overall end to where it is "ironic", then go for it.

    You are only as good as your beginning hook and resolution will give you, so make it count.
     
  6. The Din

    The Din Troubadour

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    You might be able to get away with it if you name it a prologue and use it to introduce your world and the tone of your novel. Given, it couldn't be a long story, nor too far removed from the coming plot. No reason it can't be done though.
     
  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    hm. I think I'll post it and let you all weigh-in on it.
     
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I don't have a strong opinion on yes or no, but my gut tells me a part of it kind of depends on the story being told and its length. How relevant is the story to what's going on right then and there in the main story? If it's too long it might feel like delays the start of the main story. If its a long story that has relevance then maybe consider a prologue relating that story or delaying its telling until the main story has some momentum behind it.

    A question, how is this story being relayed? Are you using a character to relay the story through dialogue like a bard, where the narrative description is showing the story teller and listener's reactions/actions during that telling? OR is the reader completely immersed into that story like a flashback into that told-story word before coming out of it and getting into the main story?

    I think the former way probably works better because it keeps the reader in the present of the main story and the telling of the story becomes part of the main story's action, and the telling of the story can inform the reader about the characters, the world, and the plot.

    My 2 cents

    Cheers.
     
  9. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    This was the beginning of the novel. I like how it goes from a folklore sort of tale into their interaction, but like I said.. the story isn't in there for no reason. She's a storyteller, and that's a HUGE part of the book. Aelith is who the novel is about, and the title relates to her and how she goes from having a "poet's heart" to a "warrior's heart" because of the tragedies in her life. This is one of the characters I torture the worst, and I think the beginning, where she is a happy teen is very important to me.


    “Once, long ago, there lived a girl named Marinde, the fairest maid any had ever seen, and every man in her father’s barony awaited an announcement of who would marry Marinde.
    One day the baron asked his four noblest knights, ‘Who of you would you marry my daughter?’
    The first knight, Eric replied, ‘I would marry Marinde because she is kind and gentle.’
    The baron smiled at his response. Marinde was indeed a kind and gentle.
    ‘I would marry Marinde for her wit,’ said Chadwick, the second knight. ‘She is smart and polite to everyone she meets.’
    The baron smiled even more so.
    Orsen spoke up then, ‘I would marry Marinde for her honor and loyalty.'
    The baron beamed. He looked at his fourth knight, a foreigner. ‘As you know my Lord,’ began Gert, ‘I am from a poor family and have no land of my own. I would marry Marinde for her dower lands and let her watch over them as she saw fit.’
    The baron looked surprised, and the other three knights looked horrified that Gert had said what he had.
    One day as Marinde was walking in the forest she was attacked by trolls, and fought hard to escape them. Bloody and frightened Marinde fled home and her mother cared for her injuries.
    But, soon rumors of Marinde’s disfigurement abounded, and eventually they reached the baron’s ears. So he called his four noblest knights before him as Marinde stood veiled next to him, and asked, ‘Who among you will marry Marinde?’
    Only Gert stepped forward.
    The baron frowned. ‘You Eric, who said you admired her gentleness?’
    The first knight shook his head.
    ‘You, Chadwick, praised her politeness and intelligence. Is she less intelligent now?’
    Chadwick averted his eyes.
    ‘Or perhaps you’d marry her, Orsen, for surely her loyalty and honor cannot be questioned.’
    He did not speak.
    The baron turned to Gert. ‘You wish to marry her though she is no longer beautiful?’
    ‘Yes,’ said the humble knight.
    ‘Why?’
    ‘I am a poor man. Marinde is a smart woman, she would be very capable of seeing over her dower lands. She is loyal to her people and well-loved by them, where I am a foreigner. She is kind and has a gentle soul, and will make a good wife and mother.’
    The baron pursed his lips in thought. Finally he said, ‘Her dowry is all the land west of the river to the mountains. Give me your hand and it is yours.’
    Gert held out his hand and the baron placed Marinde’s hand into it. ‘Your wife, Sir Gert. Kiss her and seal the deal.’
    Hesitantly Gert lifted the veil and much to his surprise Marinde was not disfigured, but only had a small scar running down her left cheek.
    ‘Will you be my wife, Marinde,’ he whispered. She gave a slight nod, and he took her into his arms and kissed her.
    Later that day after their wedding celebration, Gert asked Marinde why she had not revealed the truth about her injuries.
    ‘Because I wanted the truth,’ she said, smiling.

    Aelith smiled contentedly. She loved the story of Marinde.
    “Why did she cover her face if she wasn’t even horribly scarred?” Aarin asked.
    “That’s the point. She wanted a man who would marry her for something more than her beauty.”
    “But he married her for her dowry!” he laughed. “Isn’t that worse?”
    “Perhaps honesty was more important to her than his motivations.”
    “If it were me, I’m not sure I would have been as touched by honesty,” he frowned.
    “That isn’t the end of the tale,” Aelith said. “There’s more, and if you let me finish, you’ll see that…”
    “Aelith,” he interrupted her, rising from the dusty hay. “I can’t stay any longer.”
    “What? But I’m only getting started.”
    “I’m sorry, I’d love to stay and listen to another story, but Meg needs me to fix the coop in the morning. I promised her I’d do it first thing.”
    “It doesn’t mean you can’t stay here tonight.”
    “If I do, I’ll sleep late and she will be cross.” He kissed her cheek as she pouted. “I’ll see you tomorrow after my work is done. You can tell me more stories then.”
    “I guess,” she sighed. “Good night Aarin.” She laid down in the hay and watched as he tiptoed past the sleeping goats and then closed the door silently behind him.
    Aelith rolled over in the loft and gazed out the window at the tiny crescent in the sky. Perhaps it would rain the next day and Aarin wouldn’t have to work. Then he’d be free to spend the day as he pleased.
    Aelith closed her eyes. It was just wishful thinking, really. She doubted even Ren, who she'd learned her magic from, could perform weather control.


    THANK YOU FOR READING AND OFFERING YOUR ASSISTANCE
     
  10. The Din

    The Din Troubadour

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    I think its a fine way to start, though it does give the impression that the coming story will be a fairy tale too. If you plan to use this to juxtapose the real world, I'd suggest doing it straight away. ie: Once the tale ends, Aelith herself is shown to be horridly scarred, or she could go on to tell the 'real' story of Marinde. All depends where you want the story to go from there.
     
  11. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    The story isn't relating to the characters other than to illustrate the nature of the relationship between Aarin (a ploughboy who cannot read) and Aelith (studying magic, from a middle-class family, and loves to tell stories). Their friendship is the important bit, and in this chapter they have so much more interaction, I just wasn't sure whether the fable was the right way to get into their lives or whether I am detracting from my story by using it.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think it detracts. Not that the idea itself can't work, but for me the fable just isn't that compelling. There is no hook to it. If you think of an agent or editor going through the slush pile, sometimes reading not very far at all into a submission, you have to look at this and ask yourself what you've done to compel the reader to keep going. The opening fable doesn't characterize Aelith, and it doesn't really raise any questions in the mind of the reader as to the actual story you're telling. I understand the purposes you've stated for it, but I don't think it achieves them well. If you're trying to characterize Aelith, I'd at least have her show up right from the start, with maybe some interaction with other characters before she launches into the story.

    That's my view, but I tend toward the idea that you should hook the reader in some fashion very quickly. Novels do give you a lot more time to get around to the actual story, and so that's not an issue. The only issue for me is whether the fable itself would make people want to keep reading. I think the interaction with Aelith and Aarin is a lot more interesting than the fable (to be honest I found myself skimming it to get to the character interaction, and had to go back and re-read it).
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2012
  13. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    yeah that's kind of where I am.. but if not over the story... I'm not sure.. they'd just be laying in a barn and he's got to leave... I am not sure that's any better. :) As always, I should finish out the chapter and just hack the beginning two pages off..... I'm seeing a trend in my writing. It takes me two pages of run-up and then gets rolling. This might just be my particular problem and I can just get used to hacking it off every time. Thanks for reading guys, I appreciate every opinion.
     
  14. The Din

    The Din Troubadour

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    One suggestion: If you keep the story, I'd have the discussion afterwards become more heated. And surely the plow boy would relate more to a poor night than a princess? It would be a good way to highlight their two very different upbringing, and have their friendship win out over their fight.
     
  15. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    an interesting suggestion. I'm not in love with the story exactly. It is actually a tad indulgent because I love cultural folk stories and this one is from Africa. African storytelling is really interesting to me, and I just wanted to use the same sort of fable-type story in their interaction. I do this a couple more times in this novel, and I hope it gives depth to the characters who relte to each other not only through their own thoughts and feelings, but also through these folk-stories. Like I said, it might just be indulgent, but then, once the whole thing is typed and edited, I can always cut things out that don't work. Thanks for the suggestion. I might make the beginning more heated. Their next scene certainly is a bit more uppity.
     
  16. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I actually like the story in itself. It was a nice length, not too long, not too short. I did feel a little bit of a bump when it transitioned into Aelith. Maybe if you put the whole story in italics. I wonder if that would help things? Or, similar to what I said in my previous post, just weave the two sections together. Have Aelith tell the story like a bard and have Aarin interject questions, interrupting her telling, maybe peeving her off a bit. That can add that little bit extra conflict to things, and can reveal a bit of their relationship.
     
  17. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Yeah I know this is a tricky thing, and I understand fully why it might not be advisable. The problem with hooking a reader is that while it is ideal, it can be difficult if your beginning scene isn't an action-packed one. It's a difficult thing to introduce characters and have them be instantly likeable. I am going to post the whole chapter soon and hopefully then it will be more obvious whether it works as-is, or whether I just need to find a better introduction to the events happening at the beginning of this novel.

    I'm of a firm mind that an introduction need not be action-packed, but needs to interest the reader enough (even if there is no immediate conflict) to make the reader turn the page. These are difficult characters to jump into action with because they are mundane people. While life is about to get interesting, it would feel weird to just MAKE some sort of action up, because I think that might give a false feel to the tone. And writing about them going about their mundane lives is just too boring and not an option. I already do that a touch in the next scene. Two scenes of boring would be like breaking this story's leg and then watching it heal from the wound.

    When you have two characters who start as mundane and go on to accomplish great things, how do you best show who they are quickly? As for the pacing of this novel, Chapter 1 is getting to know these characters and the lives they live. Chapter 2 goes more into their own personal struggles and is full of interaction, but not really conflict. I am avoiding starting this story with a fight between the two characters because that is what the whole rest of the book is about (each character in their own fight). I want this strong love they feel for each other to carry them through their own lives, and portraying them as squabbling children would not make this beginning stronger. But who knows, maybe I'm looking at it wrong.

    I'm not trying to sound argumentative and forgive me if I do. I just am trying to avoid certain tactics which, while they would certainly do more to hook a reader (a band of mercenaries burning the town, a knock-down drag-out between the MCs) would ruin the calm childish innocence of this beginning.

    Thank you for all the suggestions. I sincerely appreciate every single poster's time and care.
     
  18. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

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    I like the fable. I think it's a lovely little story... but I can't help the feeling that it's in the wrong place and that I want to know the characters first, before the tale.

    Perhaps you could position it later, e.g, after their swim... unless you have something else planned and open at - Aeilth awoke a couple of hours....
     
  19. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    HAHA my dilemma indeed. Did you read the whole chapter? I posted it in the showcase. Maybe something will pop out at me, but I'm just not sure how best to rework this if it needs it.
     
  20. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

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    Yes I read the whole chapter. I liked it, they're clearly a close pair. Love the names.
     
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