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where to start a story

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by facingwest, Jun 11, 2013.

  1. facingwest

    facingwest New Member

    Is it always more interesting to start the story when the action starts? Even if the character development begins far before that? I'm trying not to be one of those writers who has 200 pages of mundane story before they get to the meat of the matter, simply because I find my own characters fascinating (duh, I created them, I better find them interesting. What are all of your views/ what do you? Examples and why you made the choice of where to start your story would be lovely.
  2. facingwest

    facingwest New Member

    Also, new to the site! Hi! :)
  3. MFreako

    MFreako Troubadour

    Hi and welcome!

    There's a phrase in Latin: "In medias res", which means "In the middle of things". Many people, me included, think that's the best place to start your story. That doesn't necessarily mean the middle of the story you intend to tell, but in the middle of some kind of dramatic action. For example: If, let's say, your main character is a thief, you can start your story with him being in the middle of a burglary. Character development can come later, and if it had already occurred, you can show it through flashbacks, conversations, thoughts etc.

    In my WIP, my MCs being a kind of a special operations unit in a Renaissance-era type fantasy. The first chapter opens with them planning the kidnapping of a very important person from a rival faction, then carrying it out.

    That's just my opinion, though. If you feel like your story should begin earlier in the timeline, don't be afraid to do so just because you'll look like "one of those writers who has 200 pages of mundane story". Some of the best stories out there begin with the main characters being children.

    Hope this helped, and good luck with your writing endeavors!
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  4. Alex97

    Alex97 Troubadour

    You've probably heard this a million times over, but you want to start with a hook to draw the reader in. The most important thing is that you pose the reader a question (hypercritically speaking) - What will happen next? why is Fred in the cave? etc As long as your opening makes the reader want to turn the page then your hook is a good.

    Probably the most obvious way of creating some excitement is with some more overt action - Battles, running away from monsters and so forth. The action doesn't have to consist of violence of course; a wife leaving her husband in the middle of the night could be just as compelling. In conjunction with or as an alternative, mystery and intrigue are equally as good.

    If the world that your writing in is particularly imaginative, you be able to open the book by showing the reader a particularly exiting place within said world. Obviously don't describe, show it through the eyes of a character.

    My book originally started with an army mounting an invasion via a beach landing. I chose this because it starts with some excitement, the introduction of a new place and I hoped the readers would want to find out why the army was there. That's changed because of some major plot changes, but I'll probably start with something similar.
  5. C Hollis

    C Hollis Troubadour

    Is it always more interesting to you when a story begins with action?

    The reaction for the typical reader is a resounding Yes. Though I am a glutton for the story and tend to give novels more of a chance than some, most people I know will toss a book on the shelf if if bores them to tears from the get go.

    Point of attack is very important, which is why you will find book titles like The First Five Pages. I have known writers who wrote several chapters when they hit a point and said "I should start the book here.". Oftentimes an agent, or editor, will encourage the writer to change the point of attack, assuming the writer was lucky enough to get their manuscript that far.
    I don't know any "formula" to finding the right spot, but I do know that 200 pages of in-your-face character development is quick way to lose readers.
    Tad Williams wrote a series that started like that. The only reason I read it was because all of the reviews for the book said it was great, AFTER you trudged through the first part of the book. But everyone agreed the first part of book one was tedious.
    I look at it like this, the threads of character development must be woven into a tapestry that is more than just a portrait, it has to be a scene of adventure.
  6. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I'm probably that guy who writes 200 pages of mundanity before anything actually happens, but then that's sort of what I've set out to do.
    My story is about a guy who goes on vacation and about the people he meets and the places he sees. It starts at the beginning, with the MC on the train about to arrive at his destination. There's been a little bit of flashing back to preceding events, but not much.
  7. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    Welcome to the site!

    I tend to take the Lewis Carroll approach. Begin at the beginning, continue until you get to the end, and then stop.

    Think about a story about a woman's relationship with her adoptive mother. Does it begin when she is five and first meets the woman, or on her wedding day when she jumps a balcony, hops a bus and hits the road? Sure, the second start is more action packed, but it is not where the story begins. Each story has its unique beginning. Don't be seduced by a flashy, bangy start. Remember, one of the best started in a quiet hole where there once lived a Hobbit.
    Rinzei and Pythagoras like this.
  8. facingwest

    facingwest New Member

    Alex, your comment of 'pose the reader a question' was great advice, as was everyone else's! The quick response was awesome! I suppose my problem is simple is the story about my character or about her actions in the story? It is a question I'll have to ponder. Being such a baby writer, perhaps I just need to hop in, start things up and see where they lead. I loved that everyone's advice was unique, and while you guys threw in those standard responses we all hear, it also had you're own flair.

    So, to elaborate bit, my story is about a legendary figure, and how she becomes legendary. Does it matter who she was before the legend? I'm solving all my own questions as I type...

    But please, feel free to keep responding! You're advice is great!
  9. facingwest

    facingwest New Member

    Sorry for typos, I'm typing this while I should be waiting on customers. Its a bit furtive. :)
  10. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I'd say that what she was matters very much. We all have a past and we all carry some baggage, both in the good and the bad sense. If the reader gets to know the character as a regular, mundane person who's biggest issue which of the neighboring boys her dad is going to marry her off to they will have more of a sense of scale once she rides into battle on a golden dragon.
  11. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I like the idea of starting with something significant that isn't necessarily action. Example: story about an alchemist that creates a cure for an epidemic starting with someone getting sick. Maybe someone mc is close to.

    Also, who your characters are before story begins is important to bring into story. They'll have their own way of viewing life which will help readers bond with them and understand choices. Plus it makes for well rounded characters if backstory is included into the present.
  12. Spider

    Spider Sage

    You could always start with dialogue too. Keep it interesting and you've got a way to introduce your characters (as well as their personality).
  13. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I got a little bit inspired and decided to check out how I've started some of the stuff I've written.

    A bit of foreshadowing here, something has happened that means trouble.
    More straight into it, someone's in pretty bad shape.
    A little bit more mysterious. What's going on here? Or rather, what's happened and to who?
    Doesn't really say anything about what's happening in the story, except where it's taking place.
    I guess these are more examples of how to to start a story than where. It may give some idea for starts though. Start between events, during or after events, or start with describing the world such as it is.
  14. Addison

    Addison Auror

    The beginning isn't just the beginning of the entire story, it's the beginning of the first act which should be like a short story or a novellete in itself. It has a beginning, middle and end which kicks off into the middle.

    A long beginning usually means it's both the first draft and there's information there that can either be cut or moved to different parts of the story. Or the information can fit but you can explain that long paragraph in a few sentences.
  15. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    When a story drops me straight into the action it can often feel like a screen play [where there has to be a hook before the first ad break...]. In a short story/novella that is okay, even good, but with a longer story/novel I like a bit of preamble. I want to setle in and get a feel for the place before I'm thrown in to the body of the plot.*
    One of my favourite openings is from "The Diamond Throne" by David & Leigh Eddings.
    Its' just one guy riding home after a long time away but it sets up so much of a feel for the man [Sparhawk] and the world he's moving back in to. In noticing the changes he sees, we get to see the world he lives in.
    200 pages... yep - that's a bit too much.
    * Okay this can lead to a debate about when the story really starts...
    For example; does the Hobbit start...
    when Gandalf meets Frodo,
    when the Dwarves arrive,
    when the dwarves leave,
    when Bilbo first becomes a "burglar" at the Trolls,
    when Bilbo finds the ring or
    when we learn how quiet and pleasant Bilbo's life is so the adventure can highlight how much he changes...
  16. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    I like to start with some sort of mystery, but there is always something immediately revealing about the main character, perhaps in the way the character responds to/is affected by the mystery.

    For example, in my book THEM, there is a mysterious short scene written in the third person, which creates a particular atmosphere. Then we switch to the main character and quickly learn that everything in his life is going brilliantly. In just a few hours, he loses his job and his fiancée, and receives a letter written in his own handwriting from a place he had never been and dated a month in the future. Oh and someone steals a map left to him by his famous explorer great grandfather.

    All this in ten pages or so, and the story is up and running.
  17. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    This is always the real question. "The story's start" isn't a fixed thing, it's a matter of perspective when events stop being lesser background and become just relevant enough to the character's changes or the plot escalation to put on the page. In fact, even after the writer picks a moment to be page 1, different readers will have their own opinions that the tale is "still just doing background-- and I like/hate that" or else that it rushed.

    What is and isn't The Real Story is a judgment call for each writer, based on our own sense of what's important and how well our styles and strengths handle different paces. No easy answer here, but working it out is all part of seeing what the story might be.
  18. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    Sometimes I know where to start, sometimes I don't.
    Best thing, jump in with both feet and start paddling for the climax.
    If you don't like the start, change it later. Maybe you need a little back story to get you going in the right direction, simply drop the backstory and jump in where it gets interesting and elude to what was dumped later on.

    Writing is like swimming in a river, the fun doesn't start until you get wet and you will never get to the thrill of the rapids if you walk along the bank.
    ie, Jump in, the water is fine! Maybe you'll find a better place to jump in later, but at least your in it.
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I think, for you, you should start your story when you are facingwest.

    Sorry, I couldn't resist!

    Everyone has given excellent advice. I'm not sure there is a "correct" place to start. If you take a look at any ten novels, just pick them at random or pick your favorites, and really step back, you'll find there were other places the story could have started.

    I have struggled with starting points for my WIP. If I have Character X remain in a particular city, then the story should start *here*. But if I have Character X go out to the frontier and engage in the battles there, then the story should start *over here*. It was even worse when I wasn't sure which of two or three characters was the main one.

    I think this is especially difficult for epics. The story is on such a grand scale, there are inevitably multiple main characters. War and Peace is a good example. The book winds up being about Pierre, but that's mainly because of Tolstoy's moral agenda in writing the book. It could easily have been about Andre, or about Natasha. Or heck, about Kutuzov or Napoleon. Every choice would mean a different set of possible starting points.

    The only way I have been able to deal with it (and after 70,000 words it's still not resolved fully) was to start writing and not worry about it. As I wrote, certain possible paths started to fall away. It wasn't so much that I decided to go *here* as it was that I decided not to go *there*. I still have possibilities, but they are far fewer. If I wind up finishing and then I (or an editor) decide that the first 200 pages must go, well so be it. The pages were not wasted, they were necessary.

    The surest cure for all writing questions is to write!
  20. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Well, duh... it starts on the first page.


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