Sunday, 20 November 2016

Starting Points – Where Should a Story Start?


This is a common question asked by almost all writers. At which point is the right point to start the story? Where is the best place to start?
The obvious answer is to start at the beginning, because that’s where every story starts, but in truth, the story shouldn’t start at the beginning, not in the literal sense. This sounds like contrary advice, but it actually isn’t.  All good editors and writers will agree – a story should start just after the beginning.
But what does that actually mean?
It’s the general accepted principle that a good story opens at a crucial or significant moment in the character’s life. Often, you will come across the ‘Open with a bang’ statement, which advises to open the story in such as way as to grab the reader’s interest. In essence, this means the story should jump right into the action, and that means the beginning of the story should reflect this.
In real terms, however, this action probably wouldn’t happen until chapter two, when things get going and stuff happens. That’s because most writers make the common mistake of first ‘setting’ the scene and establishing  the story for the reader, which means  they spend the first chapter filling several pages with exposition and backstory before anything significant or important actually happens.
The general advice, then, is to start not at the beginning – not in the true sense – but to open the novel bang in the middle of that important, significant moment or with the action, and forego all backstory and exposition. In reality your second chapter most often should be your first chapter.
Start the story where it’s most appropriate. Don’t bore the reader with pages of backstory or a prologue or huge info dumps. The idea is to grab the reader’s attention immediately and keep them interested. This won’t happen if you spend half a dozen pages explaining everything, otherwise you lose this effect and you lose the reader.
To maximise your opening, starting points should be:

  • Interesting or intriguing or mysterious
  • Action led
  • At a critical moment of the character’s life – a pivotal, decisive turning point.
  • In real terms, the crux of your story would most likely be found in your chapter two, so in fictional terms, make chapter two your chapter one opening.
To avoid problems of boring your reader or not engaging them sufficiently, don’t start the story with any of the following:-

  • Prologue
  • Backstory
  • Indirect exposition
  • Info dumps
Your opening sets the stage for the entire story, so you have to get it right. Start your story mid-way through some action, a significant event or incident or use dialogue to take advantage of your reader’s interest. You can even use very brief description (as long as it is dynamic).
When you hear advice not to start at the beginning, it means you should do just that and start at the moment that is really the most important.

Next week: Developing a story

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