Where The Story Begins

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After writing Hidden People‘s first draft, I’ve made some major – but really cool – changes. Truth is though, I’m stuck. I don’t know where to begin the story. I thought I did and even wrote a scene or two, but it doesn’t seem to be working.

The upside of writing issues is that I have something blog about and ask you guys. How do you decide where to start the story? What needs to be in place before you can even start? Here are my opinions –

  • Your character needs to be in action. Something needs to be happening that will affect him or her in a way he cannot imagine yet.
  • In order to know what will have an impact on your character and basically turn his world upside down, you need to know who your character is. What are his goals and desires? What is going to happen that will force him to deal with his issues?
  • Keep the reader in mind. Your character might have important things to do, but do we need to read about? Some writers start the story way too early, piling in information that we are either smart enough to figure out ourselves or that can be briefly referred to later while the story is progressing.
  • Don’t start too early; but if you keep having to write flashbacks, you’ve probably started too late.
  • Is your character pressed for time? If the story begins and your character is shuffling through life without a care in the world, you’re likely to lose your readers fast.
  • Will your opening scenes give you the chance to build a world? I think this is my main issue. World building is something I struggle with in general; and finding an appropriate occasion to start the story and weave in the elements of a hidden world is proving to be quite the challenge.

Where does your story start and why did you choose that specific occasion? Do you have any points to add to my list? Either let me know in the comments or you could write a blog post about it and share the link in the comments. I would love to read about it.

Thanks for reading!

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21 responses »

  1. Good question! Choosing the right beginning is something I tend to struggle with. In my first draft I usually start way too early and it takes too long to get into the main plot of the story. It’s difficult to find the right balance because you want to get right into the action, but you also don’t want to leave the reader completely in the dark, either. And at the same time, you also want to avoid dumping too much information on the reader at once. I’m still not an expert at this, but I try to start with something exciting but make sure there’s some kind of context given; you can show a lot about the story’s world through small details, through characters’ dialogue, etc.

  2. Starting a story and beginnings I find are the toughest thing. I struggle majorly with it. I always write the beginning last 😀 And yet, it is the most important part because it is, ultimately, what will draw in the reader.

    I try to find a good way of introducing the character and setting. In my first novella, I started with a memory of childhood, which hinted at the story and introduced a couple of characters and their relationships. In my second, that was harder, I opened at a wedding celebration and dropped right into the action.

    Writing an opening is such a personal thing to the story, but I’m sure an idea will pop up soon and you won’t be able to stop yourself writing! Good tips on starting a story 🙂

  3. I start at the point nearest to the inciting moment that will

    A. Allow the story to make sense to the reader
    B. Have something interesting going on.

    The whole “your character needs to be in action” thing is common advice but overly simplistic. Sometimes you CAN’T start at the point where something is going on that will change the character etc. You have to start at the point where the READER will first be able to glimpse an interesting aspect of who the character is and move forward from there.

    I frequently use dialogue as an opener because that signals to the audience that something is happening and stifles the urge to do exposition dumps in the beginning.

    • You have a point there. I think the trick is to introduce the story, your character, and the world in such a way that the reader will care about what happens next. There are many ways to do it but it’s by no means easy — at least for me.
      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

    • I agree with Rose. I really have no answer to that question as I have written my own first chapter about seventy times (no kidding, I even wrote a blog post on that sometime in October/November). And just a few days ago, I rewrote a new first chapter. But I really like this new one.
      I think basically the question should be: “what’s going on in your protagonist’s life BEFORE the story begins?” Show that the protagonist has a life, and also use that opportunity to make them someone the readers can relate with.
      That should help you with a good first chapter. Jumping into action is really bad advice IMO, almost all the bestsellers- from HP to Divergent to Hunger Games started BEFORE the inciting incident.

      • I think it depends on the content of the story…but I’m going to end up writing my whole upcoming post in the comments at this rate lol! Anyway, thanks, and good luck with the new first chapter!

      • It comes down to making me care about the story and character enough to keep reading. Whether it is through action or other events is, I suppose, secondary.
        You’re crazy rewriting your first chapter that often. 😀 I bet it is really, really good now.
        Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. I struggle with starting points. It’s my biggest obstacle when I write and one of the reasons I challenge myself with flash fiction.

    The first Harlequin book starts just after the inciting incident for the series has occured. It’s obvious from the onset that, no matter what else happens, Harlequin has no choice but to see things through to a conclusion.

    The beginning also serves to hint at his background, to show that he’s not all he appears to be. It introduces the new status quo of his life and preludes the inciting incident of that particular book.

    All in all, I chose that start because it’s the only place that makes sense.

    • I like that – starting the story at the point where the character is forced to take action or deal with the given conflict. But I almost think determining that point is not as easy as it sounds.
      Thanks for sharing your comment with us, Chris. 😉

  5. Pingback: D. Emery Bunn | At the Beginning of It All: The Critical Elements and Types of Beginnings

  6. I like to crash into a story. Action straight away. That’s how I started the first book in my series (science fiction). What I’m learning now, though, is that each book needs a different sort of beginning so that I’m not just repeating a formula.

    Book 2 I had no problem with, I still ran with action, but a different type (invasion rather than a murder). Book 3, which is still being written, finds me going back and trying out different things. I’m well over a 100 pages in, but haven’t settled on which scene the book should open on, and that’s frustrating.

    I should point out that I write each story with a series of threads, any one of which could be the beginning. You’d think with choice available to me, it’d be easy! Arghhh!

    😀

      • Thank you! I’m learning there are a few things that writing a series makes tricky, plus things it makes easier. I suppose it all balances out.

        As for the choice of start I’ve been slaving over – I’ve come up with a brand new one. 🙂

        Cheers!

  7. Whoops – would you be so kind as to delete the “should” after “on which scene” so that the sentence reads: “…but haven’t settled on which scene the book should open on…”

    I was editing and posting in full flight with no brain engaged.

    • That sounds like an excellent idea for a Douglas Adams-type starship drive. “Mindless Editing,” guaranteed to exceed lightspeed with the level of heedless skepticism, force of after-draft facepalms, and the rends in space-time caused by revising.

      • I should mention that I love Douglas Adams’ style of whimsically serious sci-fi. Nothing says mastery of writing like being able to write a scene about thermonuclear space missiles turning into a potted plant and a whale…and then have the whale’s thought process as it falls to the planet below.

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