1. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    Beginnings of all things

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by live2write, Nov 11, 2013.

    As a writer there is one thing I struggle with most: How to start the story.

    After reading several books I have observed the approach that other writers use to execute the story. Some start off with a brief description of what is happening {now} in the novel. Others start with action. Few start off with dialogue. Many utilize prologues, to which personally I am not fond of.

    In one of my stories, that is ever evolving, I have figured out BCDEF.... but not the most important, A, the beginning. The beginning is what captures the readers attention and draws out of reality and into the creation of the story

    How do you start off your novels/stories/writings?
    Do you prefer action, dialogue or a narration?
     
  2. Aurin
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    Aurin Member

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    My novel starts with a prologue, which starts as narration but builds into action/dialogue.

    From then on most chapters start straight into the action/dialogue.

    I don't think consciously of how to start it though, I just write whatever fits.
     
  3. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    My question is why do you begin the story the way you do? Does it have to start there specifically? What makes you decide that is the right beginning?
     
  4. Aurin
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    Aurin Member

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    I've started it as a prologue because I want to leave the reader with a faint memory of the antagonist (by the time he shows up in present day some 30 pages later), and as the prologue takes place many years before the events of the novel, I want to build some of the background first, though there is a major important event that happens in it that comes full circle much later on.

    Does have to start there? Well the reader can jump on at chapter one, but essentially they would be at a disadvantage - there are multiple chapters from the antagonist's POV so one would miss out on his first chapter.
     
  5. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I think stories tend to start in a situation that presents itself well and sets a tone or mood.

    Like, you can start with a quiet night that turns into murder.
    Or an important event that introduces the characters and sets the story-interest in motion.
    Present the MC in the initial balance of the world before the.... element thingy.. begins. You know, the first "Oh shit!" I can't think of the word.

    I choose my starts because they feel like natural starts to me.
    When I think of the story, I nearly always begin in a setting before the intrigue turns things topsy turvy.
    You learn about what's going on in that characters life and start getting to know him before his "dun dun dun" moment.

    I am rambling...
    I hope I said the right thing.
     
  6. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    I concur with @Aurin I just start with whatever I think fits.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The rule of thumb I keep hearing is, start as late as you can. I interpret that as, start in the heat of an exciting event. Clearly that doesn't apply to every story.
     
  8. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I only do that for characters that are criminals or something.
    If they have an interesting line of work or do extraordinary things I think they should begin with that.
    However, characters that are more mundane, I prefer to start with a slower beginning with less action. Something soft, something you can relate to, and peaceful. I personally enjoy those first 2 chapters of settling in so I try to emulate that.

    Anyone who says always start with action or whatever is wrong.
    You can start slow as long as there is intrigue and hints of conflict.
    Don't write about a day where nothing happens at all.

    But yes, generally, start as late as possible, or as close to the instigation trigger as possible.
     
  9. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    I can understand if the character's actions justify the means to tell a story. I have come across a wall where I cannot find the words to begin my story but I can write what goes on afterwards and the ending. I do not know if it is because I am trying to hard to find a solution or I am not trusting my gut instincts.
     
  10. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    If you can write what is afterward, the correct beginning would be answers by "How did I get there?"
    The first line is the beginning of the scene. The very first sentence.

    The blood sprinkled down on the white marble floor.
    or
    "Is he dead?" Tanya asked as she wiped her club clean.
    or
    The house loomed over him. John hated climbing those steps. He hated ringing that little bell even more.

    From there, just keep going.
     
  11. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    The simple answer is the one Curt Vonnegut espouses: Start as close to the end as possible.

    Look at the structure of any story. Someone who has a predictable future has a change come into their life. It could be good, like meeting a man/woman who they feel they absolutely have to get to know better. It could be learning that zombies have begun rising. But whatever it is, it will be the thing their life will revolve around until the story is resolved. That goal may change. The protagonist might think the problem is the zombies, and later learn that the real problem is the person or group causing them to rise. But whatever it is, the problem will steadily become, over the course of the story, more acute, the situation more desperate. It is the occurrence of this inciting incident that divides the beginning from the rest of the story. So that inciting incident is what we need to work toward as the story begins. We place the players on stage, or bring them on as necessary, then hit them over the head with "the problem."

    But there we have a problem. Events are boring unless we, as readers, are made to care and speculate on what's best to do about the problem(s). If we can make the reader do that we have a participant not an audience. In fact, readers come to us to be made to feel that the action is happening to them in real-time.

    Because of that, we need to make the reader know who the protagonist is as a person, and why we should care what happens to them. The reader needs to know where they are in time and space, and learn that, not be being given a lecture by the author, but through context. A man who stops for a traffic light is obviously driving. If he squints to see it in the sun's glare we know it's taking place during the day. And if he squints against the bright California sun we know his location.

    The reader wants to know what's going on, so when something happens they have context for it. And they want to know whose skin they're wearing, so they can identify with their new avatar.

    So there you are. Just pencil in the details. :D
     
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  12. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    Bold text is how I want to feel when I read novels. There is one I am reading now I decided to return because the writer did not accomplish that with me.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Many writers have trouble with the beginning. I'm one of them. It's perfectly okay to write BCDEF and get all that stuff sorted out, and more likely than not, doing so will tell you A very clearly.

    So if I don't know my beginning, I carry on with what I do know, confident that my beginning will reveal itself to me as I approach the end. I know it feels weird - it feels like firewalking, wandering over dangerous ground without having properly prepared - but that's the thrill of writing. I think it was Ray Bradbury who said you should jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. There's some truth in that.

    Write what you can write, and trust that what you don't see when you start will become visible as you go on.
     
  14. HarleyQ.
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    HarleyQ. Just a Little Pit Bull (female)

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    I start my stories in such a way that hints to what's going on in the character's life, so you can pick up on certain clues that matter more than you might think. For example, my WIP novel begins with my MC waking up in the middle of the night to let her dog out, because her dog doesn't like bright lights, and won't go out in the morning. She puts her dog's schedule and likes over her own, which has a lot to do later on.

    I'm absolutely terrible at writing beginnings, though, so watch out! This might be completely useless advice.
     
  15. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    What's going to make the reader curious? That's where I try to start. I don't outline or plan anything, so starting close to the end really doesn't do anything for me - I don't know what the end is, let alone where it is! lol So I go for natural curiosity - sometimes it's action packed, sometimes it's quiet, sometimes it's dialogue, sometimes it's a prologue. Sometimes I'll rework that opening line dozens of times before I get it right - and I know it's right because then the story starts writing itself. But the key is figuring out what's going to make the reader want to continue, and that depends on the story and the tone you want to set for the reader.
     
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  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Then I say, write the story, figure out the beginning later, when the rest of the story points to the beginning.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My general theory is to allow myself to start at a point that I know is too early, and then, when the story is done, figure out exactly how much of the beginning to chop off.

    However, I'm not published, so my general theory has limited value. :)
     
  18. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    That's actually good advice.
    Just start writing if you're not sure where the sweet spot is.
    Eventually, as you along, it'll become clear.
    Your first draft isn't final and you might as well start going in the direction you want than worry about whether your start is right.
     
  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What makes you think your B is not really your A, if you can think of nothing else to start the story with?

    I think the trap is trying too hard, which seems to be what you're doing. Not every story lends itself to an exciting first sentence, nor an exciting opening event. Do not fall into the trap of opening with a Big Shiny Object. That is, something designed to grab and hook your reader but that is actually irrelevant to the story, or something that doesn't actually match the tone and pace of the rest of the novel. Because then the reader would feel let down, and you would've hooked the wrong type of reader. For example, if your book is a slow-paced melancholic story and you go and start with a grizzly murder for whatever reason, you'd end up with readers thirsting for suspense and tension and a thumping pace, which they're not gonna get, and the ones actually looking for a slow-paced sorrowful drama wouldn't get past your beginning. Disappointed readers all round.

    Be true to your story - don't make the beginning into something it's not. What do the readers have to know before B makes sense? That'll be the stuff you need to include in A (unless of course "A" could come later and the unknown stuff in "B" could be used to build suspense - I put them in inverted commas because chronologically it'll now go BA rather than AB, but that makes B the actual beginning)

    What's the most important thing your readers MUST must must know about? That should probably be the opening.

    The way I figured out my opening - I figured out what the readers must know before the story really starts and wrote that, because the next available opportunity to feed the readers this info would be in Chapter 4, which is far too late. I didn't open with a great big bang. I open with my MC pulling on his gloves to hide the scars that he's ashamed of. It's a slow start, but so far 95% of test readers have enjoyed it and said they read it very quickly.

    However, end your chapter 1 with a cliff-hanger. I don't think my readers would've read it half as quickly if I hadn't ended it with a cliff-hanger lol.

    But most of all, set your readers up for the kind of novel your book actually is. If it's satire, make sure the humour shines through in the opening. If it's mystery, make sure there's suspense and tension. If it's fantasy, make sure there's some fantastic/mysterious element in there. You get the gist. Don't be so hungry to grab readers that you deviate from the spirit of your book. It's like meeting a new friends (the reader is your new friend) - you wanna make a friend that lasts, you need to be yourself, not pretend to be somebody you're not. Same here for a book.

    In other words, don't worry about exciting events or anything spectacular - worry about what you actually want the readers to know. Your opening should make your readers ask questions - who, why, what, how etc. Don't think in terms of "Why should people care?" They shouldn't, there's no reason to care, it's the frigging first page. But you must make sure they're interested. Making something INTERESTING is a lot easier than trying to make people care, and it's slightly more concrete. People will only start caring after their interest is piqued, after all.
     
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  20. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I find beginnings easy but endings really hard. It's difficult to pull everyhing together, offer a satisfactory ending.

    Nowadays when T and I start something new, we start with a conflict, as late as possible, when some kind of a change is imposed on the character(s), something that throws them astride on the back of the adventure, whatever it is, and so the ride begins. They might also be in some exciting, relevant situation,

    I approached the beginning of my second-ever proper short story differently, started it out with one paragraph of setting up the scene, but pretty soon after that it's straight to the conflict, to the heart of action.

    By the way, by action and conflict I don't just mean a shootout/murder/apocalypse. Mckk put it well, imo:
     
  21. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always start my stories with a hook. Something that'll grab the reader enough, to make them keep reading. Also important is to not let the tension fizzle out. You need to keep the reader on the edge for at least first three chapters, it gives them a reason to keep turning the pages and more importantly, it gives them time to bond with the character.

    I tend to start with action and dialogue, but truth be told, a lot of work goes into that first page. Raw emotion is another good one, if done right, it instantly bonds the reader with the character.

    But different stories call for different beginnings, so sometimes it's appropriate to start with a short flashback, or to even address the reader, 'Catcher in The Rye'-style. As long as there's a hook and no letup, it's half the job done.
     
  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't let myself get too caught up in the "how to start" bit. I'm not a linear writer at all. The start will show itself to me somewhere in the middle-ish of writing the piece, especially for longer pieces. I allow myself to accept that the part chronologically written first will get folded into the meringue later on because some bit written later suddenly shines as yes, this is the first page.
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    with an opening sentence that always 'comes to me' along with the idea for the piece...

    i don't limit myself with preferences, simply let the piece start itself in whatever way it seems to want to...
     
  24. LeighAnn
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    LeighAnn Member

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    My opening scenes always start by allowing the reader to glimpse the inner nature of the character. Since my stories are character-driven, it makes sense that the first sentence would focus on my characters. If my readers are interested in who my main character is, they'll keep reading. It's working so far.
     
  25. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    The best advice I have ever received in regards to beginnings is this: start as late as possible.

    In other words, cut out the boring stuff and start when something interesting is happening. It doesn't matter if the audience doesn't know everything right off the bat. In fact, it's actually better if some things are unclear. Just make it clear what is happening at that moment. Get people hooked early and they will stick around to find out why it's happening, who these people are, how they are connected, and everything else.
     

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