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Starting a story with the death of a child.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Northern, Dec 13, 2018.

  1. Northern

    Northern Dreamer

    I know this is kind of a downer of a topic, but it is something I have been struggling with for awhile.

    So in my current WIP I have my main POV character's first chapter plotted to take place at his child's deathbed as they succumb to a plague that is sweeping through the land.

    Every writing resources I've read suggests that you start a story as close to the inciting incident as possible and in my case, this seems to be the logical, if unpleasant, starting point.

    My other option is start the story at the child's funeral, which would skip most of the really heavy stuff, but that kind of feels like cheating to me.

    Anyway, just curious to see what people's opinions would be. Would you read a fantasy story that starts that way or would that turn you off?
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    It all depends, the worst answer ever, heh heh. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Startin on the inciting incident is not the greatest advice. But of course, what the inciting event is in many cases can be argued. 3 act structure, you’d want the inciting incident in the first half of the first act, other than that, there’s no real requirement. Put the event where it works.

    And there are never only two options. Establishing the normal world before the incident is another option.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Starting with the death of a child can work if you make it work. I'd say the challenge is greater because the reader is new to the story, not invested in any of the characters. You'll get an advance on empathy just because it's a child, but beyond that you'll have to pull a hard right jab to the heart. And if this death is intended to drive the plot, it has even more weight to carry.
  4. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    Do it. You can start with the death, or rather in your WIP the dying, of a child. Depending on what themes you're writing to, it should work well. No, we aren't 100% emotionally invested as readers, but exploit that initial indifference. Especially under the circumstances of plague, with children dead and dying already, it makes me (the reader) wonder why THIS death and THESE characters are going to have a story worth telling/ reading.
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  5. Peat

    Peat Sage

    The idea itself doesn't intrinsically repel me, no. That beginning would have the same chance with me as any other beginning. If anything I find the idea somewhat intriguing, but then I like stories about families.
  6. Northern

    Northern Dreamer

    Thanks for responses. I'll give it a shot with how I currently have it planned out and hope for the best.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  7. EponasSong

    EponasSong Scribe

    In my opinion it depends on how important the child actually is to the story. Are you wanting the readers to be attached to the child? If so, starting with the death wouldn't really work. Or is the mere event of the death of the child the significant event? If the reason for putting the death of the child is for the impact it has on the POV character and that is it, then you can get away with starting the book with the death of the child, just make sure to convey how your POV character felt about them. I hope that makes sense.
    Raeann likes this.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Didn't Jemisin do exactly this? She seems to have succeeded pretty well!
  9. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Starting with death is common. Death is symbolic in a number of ways.
  10. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    I just read the opening of someone's work where a child died of a plague in it's mother's arms (I wont send you the link as it was on a different forum and I'll respect that persons privacy)
    Anyway, THAT moment motivated the mother to do something. This illness was a man made one to eliminate her kind. It motivated the Mother to fight back against those releasing it. That one was made for babies and children, a stronger dose it being created for adults. My point is, that scene was key to her character and the plot.

    Keeping it close to the inciting incident is important, but in my opinion not as important and having each scene be crucial to the plot and/or character development. If your first scene is that, then keep it. It will pact a punch. If not I would go for the funeral. Remember the parents will need to grieve, but grief is a funny thing. People think you start grieving the moment a loved one dies - but not always. After my Dad died it took a year just to get over the shock (they call that the first stage). I carried on like normal. Organising things, laughing, I would have the odd weepy moment but it wasn't this soul wrenching pain at that point.

    Any way best of luck
  11. Seira

    Seira Minstrel

    I think, a long as it is relevant to the plot and the character it's fine to do. No sense in putting some readers through an emotional scene (that could be off putting, parents have obviously lost children before) for it to redundant, if you see what I mean.
  12. Eclipse Sovereign

    Eclipse Sovereign Minstrel

    Absolutely. Right away, you’ve pulled your reader in. If you’ve done it right, you can tie their interest to the story.

    I, personally, started a story with about six deaths, all family of the main character and two being children. It’s still a WIP, but it’s one of my favorite projects so far.
  13. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

    Most likely I would not. However as others say it depends on how it is written. I tend to assume a slow heavy gothic type of tone for the book if it starts out with a lot of death, a child death or a plague type setting. Depressing books tend to be uninteresting to me so you would want to pick up right after this with an exponentially less severe scene in my opinion. Now, I would be more likely to read a book starting with a child funeral that then loops back to how this happened or what happened while mixing in lighter elements as this isn't as heavy.
  14. KaeSeven7

    KaeSeven7 Dreamer

    I, personally, would LOVE this. But then again, I write and read already dark fantasy.

    I think this is a gripping beginning, introduces a character at their most vulnerable (or potentially not, who knows), could introduce the harshness of their world/life, but most of all, is just plain interesting. It's better than saying 'he got out of bed this morning' for sure.

    My only question to you would be how you want the story to be perceived, as if you don't want the whole story to remain dark and twisted, then this beginning may lure in the wrong type of reader, and may not interest the readers who would enjoy the rest of the plot. Of course, there are ways to write this in different tones - dark, emotive, secretive - that could help to dictate the tone for the rest of the story and keep your readers present.

    Sorry if I rambled, but I would definitely keep reading a book that started this way!
    Eclipse Sovereign likes this.

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