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Plot problem: Where to start your novel?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Shine Magical, Mar 23, 2014.

  1. Shine Magical

    Shine Magical Dreamer

    I am having trouble deciding where to start my book:

    1) A modern world that slowly turns into a fantasy world with magic,
    2) A world that is already "deep" in it's fantasy aspects.

    I have written along the lines of #1, but I feel like the beginning is very dull because of this approach.

    If I start with the second option, I'm just fast-forwarding into the main part of the story, at a cost of having less history/background of how this world came to be.

    Can I have your thoughts? :)
  2. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    It's hard to be wrong if you think the beginning is dull. (It's easier to be wrong if you think it's okay, and only later realize it's slow.)

    I'd say, start with the world deep in magic-- or pretty deep in the transition, anyway. Look around and see how many ways there are to replot the story, and also rearrange how you explain things (flashbacks, research That's Needed To Save Lives, and so many more), to see if you need the "dull" opening.

    Of course, it could also be that what you most like about the idea IS showing the slow transition, and you just need more ways to make that change more appealing.

    You have no lack of options for either way, but from the way you describe it and the patterns more people fall into, I'd bet that you'd rather work out how to start it later.
  3. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    At the risk of sounding flippant, I'm going to quote Lewis Carroll. "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

    Basically what this means in terms of writing is you want to start your novel at the beginning of the plot's action - not at the beginning of the backstory, but where important things start happening in your story. You can weave in important backstory information into your narrative as you go along. Trust your instincts. If you're feeling the pull of the action, then that's the story that needs to be told.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    ^^^ These are setting elements. You have to pick a starting point in terms of character development and plotting elements. If the opening of your book is dull, we would need to know more about your story than just its setting to help you figure it out. Either of these settings could be used to support incredible stories.
    BWFoster78 likes this.
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Either approach is fine, but the more important thing to think about is where does the story start for your main character? All the historical stuff can be dribble fed in later, or if you really really must a prologue.

    Generally speaking, I think of beginnings as a scene/chapter where I can show the reader what my character and their life is like before the story changes them, or doesn't change them. It's a contrasting point that the audience can point to after the story is over and realize how much the character has changed by the end. In beginnings, I establishes who the main character is, at the very least hints at conflicts they have, and give the reader a taste of the world.

    They do this all the time in movies. Pick any movie, preferably a good one. Watch the first ten minutes or so, and you'll see how quickly these things can be done or how drawn out they could be.
  6. GroundedTraveler

    GroundedTraveler Scribe

    I agree with Devor that the story needs to be about your character.

    Either of your options can be really interesting depending on how you set up the character in it. I actually the setting idea of 1, but it needs the story to make it interesting. What is frightening/fascinating to your characters about the world changing? An artist is going to react differently than high tech scientist and probably different than a computer geek (though tons of them might be happier in a fantasy world, who knows). Thus the setting changes can echo the changes (and fears) of the characters helping bring Story forward.
  7. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    It might be worth looking at The Gone-Away World. The first chapter begins in a world deep in magic. Then it flashes back in time, and half the book is about how it got to be that way. The pre-magic parts are necessary--they reveal a lot about characters' personalities and motivations--but there needed to be a post-magic part at the beginning just so readers could know where it was going.
  8. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    I really like the idea of starting with a 'normal' world and then throwing magic into the mix and watching what happens. So much fantasy assumes that magic is already deeply embedded, but seeing how things change after the introduction of magic is actually a fascinating approach to take, I think. Benjamin Clayborne's 'The Queen of Mages' follows that line - you might want to look it up.

    Having said that, I'd also agree with much of the advice you've already received - start with the characters, and start at the point where things change. What is the point at which magic puts in an appearance in your world? Is it a child born with an unusual talent? Is it something that comes from outside, like a meteor? Is it a mutation of a virus that gives people unusual abilities? Who is the first person to have access to magic? That's your starting point.
  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Another example of this are the books about Kitty Norville (by Carrie Vaughn). It's an Urban Fantasy series that starts out with the world in general believing that werewolves and vampires etc are just myth - when it really isn't. The first book deals with how Kitty herself "comes out" as a werewolf. At first she doesn't really get any more attention than your average nutjob would, but over the series the world slowly starts to understand that there really are things out there that go bump in the dark.
    I like it a lot.
  10. ALB2012

    ALB2012 Maester

    Yeah, I'd agree the characters are more important than the world. The backstory will come (if it needs too) as you are writing and you can always keep a folder of notes. Flashbacks work, or Bob telling John about the time he remembers when magic didn't exist and people had to use large metal boxes instead of magically teleporting.

    If you think it is dull it probably is (sorry).

    For mine I had a character in mind, and a vague idea for the world and I just fitted it in from there, the detailed lore comes as I write, I have a folder for it. The reader doesn't need to know exactly how things work - do YOU know exactly how everything in this world works? I don't. That is what makes life interesting.

    If you have magic, maybe that explains things, or religion, or both.
  11. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    I'm a pantster so my thought would be start writing where the story grabs you. Expand those parts of the book until they feel complete, and they will hopefully tell you how the rest of the book starts and ends. Because it sounds to me like you're plotting a book but writing a different one and that's why the indecision.

    Cheers, Greg.
  12. andy.peloquin

    andy.peloquin Scribe

    Another idea: start with the ending, and flesh out the details until your story tells itself. Get an idea of what you want to say, and follow that structure.

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