1. Indivisible
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    Indivisible Member

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    Best way to start a story?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Indivisible, Nov 23, 2010.

    Hey, I've been recently struggling with this, maybe others have been through this and can provide insight.

    But currently I am writing a story, and I am having a hard time deciding which scene I should start out with. The story pretty much revolves around sets of murders, though the culperits are either known or dead, so there really isn't a mystery to the who or how of the murders, but the why. So what I want insight on is, should I start with the initial murder first or the detectives investigating the initial murder?

    I want to hook the audience, but also want to allow some mystery to set the tone. What do you recommend?

    Thanks.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is hard to tell someone what to use as an opening. I know with each of my books I have tried several openings (except the current one I nailed the opening first try). With each opening I found the story would take a slightly different turn.

    My advice is write the first few thousand words from each opening and see what happens. It took me about six goes with my second novel each time I got to around 5000 words and started again.
     
  3. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    There are so many great ways to begin a story. As long as you're giving us something that will interest readers right from the start, you're good. Both of those options you layed out would make good beginnings.

    Just don't begin by describing somebody thinking, reflecting, or waking up in the morning (unless they get jolted awake by something bad happening, but I hate reading some long beginning about someone getting up and starting their day while they reflect to themselves [excuse to info-dump]), but you don't seem to be going that route, so whatever you do will be fine.
     
  4. Bikingman
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    Bikingman New Member

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    Natural order, artificial order and medias res - are three classical rhetorics used to sequence events/tell a story. Natural order follows how you would imagine, timing from beginning to end. Artificial order starts at the end of a sequence then reverts back to the beginning followed by the middle to end. Finally, Medias res starts you in the middle of a sequence of events, it also translates from Latin to 'in the middle of matter.' They can be tricky but are simply applied - a way to throw some twists and turns in your story.

    Any of these would work. You could start this scene from inside the bullet wound and back out micro to macro, finish to start. You could start from the beginning move the reader through as they would imagine. Or you could start from the gun shot going off, leaving the reader to read through the scene until they find out who shot it and who was hit. Or anything else respectfully

    Cheers
     
  5. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    ^This is your best bet.

    Just remember that you want the reader to be asking questions, having only a few of them being answered. A great hook can also act like a great tease as well, and a murder/mystery is an amazing way to start off a story; contrariwise, it can also be the hardest to pull off.
     
  6. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    Writing style always helps. And as the people above me wisely noted, it is essential for you to have your readers want to learn more about the story in order to get them hooked. You want them to get confused (not too confused to the point of being frustrated, but a light curiosity that will push them to flip the pages). It's good that you're starting with murders and making the reader ask why, but maybe you want to add more than just "why". I've seen plenty of books open up with a murder and the same question "why" pops up time and time again-- after a while, it could get monotonous, especially to a fan of the mystery genre.

    Having interesting characters also helps. It catches the attention of the reader if the characters are interesting enough to stick with for the rest of the book. Just my two cents, though.
     
  7. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    How about telling the story through the voice of one of the victims. This particular victims- body/home/diary could lead the DI to solving the case.
    just a thought.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd start with one of the detectives cursing as he spills his coffee at the crime scene.

    I know, you didn't ask for anything that specific, and I don't actually expect you to take that exact suggestion. But my general idea is to (1) start with action, but (2) it doesn't need to be big action, and (3) start with characters that the reader will be able to follow for a while and identify with to some extent, and probably neither the murderer or (hey, should that be 'nor'?) the victim qualify, and (4) start with those characters in a situation that makes it easier for the reader to identify with them, and a detective having a bad day and spilling his coffee seems, to me, to qualify. It would also let you immediately show some interaction between the detectives and their reaction to the slightly unexpected, instead of them being textbook stone-faced investigators asking formal questions.

    ChickenFreak
     
  9. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Hello, didn't want to create another thread, because this thread seems to be relevant to the question I want to ask. I have a finished novel, but the POV character seems to be out of focus. I mean, I have like three characters on the same chapter. Does this affect the character's ability to understand the real POV character?

    I was also wondering if anyone who finished a novel thought about putting each chapter into a short story, and then putting them together into a better novel? Does that affect the structure of the novel? I thought about doing this, and it seems like the benefit of doing that is that it strengthens the flow of the narration. One drawback is that when many people writes the ending to a short story, readers might think that that's the last chapter of the novel. Has anyone thought about doing this?
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, Alexander McCall Smith has done this, in his 44 Scotland Street series. This was commissioned by a newspaper, and each short story was published in the paper, but with an overall story arc, and then each major arc collected into a book. It's rather like the way Victorians such as Charles Dickens worked, except that with the Victorian serialised works they tried to end each chapter on a cliffhanger so the chapters were not complete stories. The weakness of the complete story method is that you can't keep many story arcs going if you keep having to come to a resolution, and unless the few continuing story arcs are really gripping each chapter end gives the reader a place to stop reading. For that reason I found 44 Scotland Street choppy and unsatisfying. I much prefer his 1st Ladies Detective Agency books.
     
  11. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    The general answer is yes, but the specific one is maybe. Usually, if the PoV character, or the protagonist, is out of focus, then it makes it hard for the reader to follow the emotional connection to the conflict.

    You say PoV character: are you switching from one character's 1st person PoV to another's? Or focusing on one character, but having the limelight stolen by other characters?
     
  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me personally the best stories have clear POV in each chapter. That is the one thing even in third person that attracts me to a story.

    I tend to write my stories scene by scene each chapter contains either a piece of dialogue or an event that could be a short story/flashfiction in itself.
     
  13. Jonalexher
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    Jonalexher Contributing Member

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    This idea, like many others above, is great. You want to start with some action, but not too much, you don't want the readers thinking "What the hell is going on here?"
    Maybe bring in another detective into that scene and make him ignorant of the murders, so that they would have to explain what is going on, it would be a nice introduction since you are putting the reader right into the 3rd detective's shoes. Just a thought, hope it helps :]
     
  14. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Personally, I like to start it off with a murder, but make sure it doesn't give anything away. Always refer to the murderer as "The dark shape" or "The vague figure" or "The man with a knife/silenced gun/garrote" or something like that. Then suddenly skip to the main detective spilling his coffee at his office when the phone rang, but not because of the murder, because his wife is reminding him about the dental appointment. This builds suspense and also allow people to relate the the detective("This is no Sherlock Homes, he has a life, just like me!"). Then slowly build up to the murder.
     
  15. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    idea

    Just my opinion. It is hard to say, but if you start with the murders you are starting in a flashback correct? I always prefer that stories start in the present (Even if its present past tense).

    You could start with a TV show highlighting the crime in the past, showing its effect on a family or people and how they were never caught, or you could start with the detectives.
     
  16. Indivisible
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    Indivisible Member

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    Thanks for all the advice everyone. I've decided that I'll start with the murder scene, with victim and perpetrator revealed because it well set the tone of the story in terms of what the investigators are looking for, which is why are the murders happening or why they're being perpetrated. And the audience/reader is put into that mindset from the get go.

    Thanks, your advices helped a lot.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's no overall best/worst or right/wrong!

    each story dictates its own 'best' and each writer will have his/her preference for each story...

    it's useless to try to please readers, because they'll each have their own preferences, too...

    so the only thing that makes any sense is to start each of your stories the way each of them seems to start best... period!
     
  18. Indivisible
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    Indivisible Member

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    True. It's all very grey and not so black and white. You can't get caught up with what the readers/audience would like. Thank you for the advice. :)
     
  19. michaelwantstolearn
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    michaelwantstolearn New Member

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    For me, the easiest part in writing a story is to make the starter scenes. However, as I finish one chapter, it seems that I am losing the main point of the story, and the plot goes somewhere else. As a result, I never continued to write them until the end, well at least for some stories that I wrote.

    Personally, I always start my stories with a prelude, just to give the readers a "sneak peek" of what the story is about. I don't know if this is a good idea but I just like to create some sort of previews at the beginning of the stories I wrote.
     
  20. JetMasta
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    JetMasta Member

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    You kinda said what im gonna say XD

    You should start at the first crime scene/the last one. Then as the detective or what ever starts to see what is going, explain the crime as it happends, so sorta like:

    ~You could already smell the dead as you walked into the house. Another officer gave me the file as i arrived, the victims name was Mona Andrews. I walked toward the bedroom, I was told it was up the stairs and to th left. Along the way there was blood, so much blood. The crime obviously began near the front door. ~

    Somthing like that, but better. I've never writen anything like that before, but hopefully you understood what i ment. XD
     
  21. Midnight Pete
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    Midnight Pete Member

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    My suggestion is to start the story *as a murder is taking place*, without announcing to the reader what is happening or why. This should guarantee the reader's desire continue reading to find out why the murder just occurred. That is my suggestion.
     
  22. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    e.g.'s

    From everything I've read and studying everyone is spot on. Although it doesn't have to be the most extreme apex of intensity. Any tension grab is fine. Preferably you want to start with a 5-6+ on the intensity scale of 0-10 (0 being null- 10 being done maybe once or twice per book).

    It can be as simple as question
    e.g.
    What happened to you nose?
    Why is your shirt covered in blood?
    or an action:
    e.g.
    He dug the shovel into the cold hard dirt.
    or
    Thoughts:
    e.g. It would have been a perfect day, if I didn't have to shoot John Smith.

    It depends on narrative whimsy, drama or your authorial voice. If your book is dark, start dark. If you book is thrilling but has humor--start that way. Give an instant feel to your book. while instilling page turning drama.
     
  23. Sarah's Mom
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    Sarah's Mom Member

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    If you are writing a story you need a hard hook, the guy spilling the coffee at the crime scene is a pretty good one actually. My question to myself is always: where does the story start? If I know the story and who's story it is, then I want to start with them at the moment it begins. If the story is the dead guy's, it'll be different from the detective.

    If you are writing a novel then you can soft hook them, because people who read books are willing to give themselves, and you, a couple paras to get into it.

    But I think it's still the same question.
     
  24. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    Hook Problems and other literary techniques are so common but here is my take, please read it all because it comes from the heart:

    As good writers and wordsmiths we often struggle with the whole commercial fiction vs. Literary integrity fiction opening. Both obviously need hooks, but some like Koontz (a brilliant writer no doubt) is more of an engineer than he is a poet of words, so his books are almost engineered to sell (and sometimes his books seem written around the hook). There's no wrong answer, just getting the reader to keep going.

    I think the key to writing (Just my honest opinion , since I struggle with the same pitfalls), Let your book suck, let is stink, finish it!! When its done revise. When its revised then worry about the opening and where and how to move scenes or add details and scenes in.

    We really all wan't to write something that enriches peoples lives or inspires them. Problem is that when we write we have to put out the crap first so we have something to mold. Every once in a while a piece of gold will float out by itself, but really... finish the book.

    The title name, chapter names, hooks, tiny foreshadows, brilliant inflections, they can all be wordsmithed. But they'll never exist if we don't create a big pile of crap to work with.

    I know it sounds so negative when I say it this way. But the truth is the best writers all say, they first time they write any story it starts as a big pile of horse "pockey."

    I think the thing that makes us, as writers, SPECIAL, is the same thing that drives us crazy in the process of writing.

    In essence, if we struggle, then there is something worthy inside you, making you a writer.

    If you think it comes easy, and you belt things out that can make the angels cry in one shot... you are either God or you're probably doomed to not be a writer.

    Writing has several layers:
    Storytelling- any human can do this! Some people have a knack
    Conceptualizing the story - crafting it into a mess of words - no trick, just needs to be finished.
    Word-smithing - This separates the books from those who have their fictional words quoted by others.

    Writers have layers too:
    Ego:
    We know we have skill and stories people want to hear
    Technical Skill:
    Some lack it, some excel at it.
    • Those who lack it should learn, learn, learn.
    • Those who excel need to avoid using it as a crutch in creativity
    • Those in the middle need struggle with balance
    Willpower:
    We all have it, we all lack it, and we all struggle with fear.
    The 1% who publish keep moving no matter what.
    Mental Issues:
    The most brilliant writers and minds usually have a disability, not like being legless, but there's always something like an obstacle, but this is what makes you SUPER special!
    • ADD - I have it. Ironically, Makes it hard to focus, or makes you too focused. But your struggle can created 3-D characters, because you know what it is to struggle, to go deep within the darkest despair in yourself.
    • OCD - OCD is the downfall of many writers. Perfections can fall apart when they see red marks on their work. Its a huge hurdle, and realizing that its not about being perfect, its about being understood and catering to the largest base of people. (If you want to publish)
    • Anxiety - Social anxiety is one of the most common problems with writers. Another ironic problem because understanding people is so important. People with social anxiety though, tend to understand everyone better than normal, just not themselves.

    Why did I list all this:
    My philosophy is that writing is pure. Writing is the closest (besides having a child) that you will get to being like God or a god -the ability to create. Same with art and music. Writing, art and music are all pure and even mathematical in a sense. They are creation.

    Struggle is part of our craft, and if your struggling, I am just trying to say that it guarantees you are on the write track! So congrats! Keep it up!
     
  25. Pook
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    "Writing, art and music are all pure and even mathematical in a sense. They are creation"

    I like this ^
     

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