I have been remiss of late in posting to the Brink. In part it was because I’ve been very busy following up on the pitches I made at the Colorado Gold Conference (fingers crossed!). But I have also been chewing on a few things I learned at the conference this year. This is the first of those, which is about where to begin your story.
Whether newbie or veteran to a critique group, I think the hardest pages to bring to the group are the first ten pages. It’s always a rocky start, even for a well-polished writer who knows what he or she is doing. I’m not highly skilled with these techniques. Don’t necessarily advocate any of the advice I’m laying out in this post or the next two, but I will at least attempt to show exactly how I’m trying to absorb and make sense of it.
Advice #1: Don’t write the beginning until the end.
While I understand this in theory, I find it extremely hard to apply in practice. You have to begin somewhere! It’s a little hard to write a coherent story if you gloss over the beginning and plow onward from there. Yet, the recommendation isn’t that you skip the beginning. Rather, you wait until you figure out everything you’ve set in motion THROUGHOUT YOUR STORY, then make sure you set it up in the beginning. You can’t do that until you kind of know where the story ends. But while this approach can help in making sure the opening is strong, it doesn’t help you make sure you start your story in the right place.
Take my fantasy story about Joe as an example. I think I’ve written the beginning of that thing five different times, not counting in-between edits. I have an ending and I like my ending. So theoretically I should know how to start my story. But the truth is, I go back and forth all the time. Prologue vs. no prologue? Is it fair to start with a POV character who shows up nowhere else in the story (by the way, that concern convinced me I needed a prologue)? If the story is about Joe, ultimately, is it okay to start Chapter 1 with Lyriel instead of Joe?
On the one hand, I can make logical arguments about all the choices I’ve made. In the story structure of the Hero’s Journey, one of the things the first part of the story does is demonstrate the “old world,” the original world of the hero that he or she must leave behind in order to begin their journey. In the case of Joe (my hero), you wouldn’t really have a good understanding of the world Joe leaves behind if you met him there first. He’s a normal college kid, leading a normal life, which isn’t so interesting. Especially if you deliberately picked up the book from the Fantasy/Science Fiction section. The most important part about Joe in the opener is that he’s completely unaware of the new world that is out there waiting for him. And as the author, I ask myself how best to convey that world? . . . By showing it to the reader, right from the start.
So, meh, as they say. I don’t know that this advice helps an author truly identify the right place to start their story. But I guess it’s better than nothing at all!
In part two of this post, I’ll take on the inciting incident and the opener. In part three, using the opening to contrast with the close.