1. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    The importance of starting in the right place

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by deadrats, Jul 31, 2016.

    I have this very loose idea for a novel. I don't plan much and I don't outline, and I don't really want to do either of those things. But I would like to write this novel. Twice now I've started too far back. Each time I got pretty far into the story, but both times it ended up not having anything to do with the novel I wanted to write. After the fact, it became quite clear that I wasn't starting the story in the right place.

    How do you choose where the story starts? I don't want it to keep taking me 20,000 words to realize this isn't right. I don't think it matters too much if you are a planner or a pantser. Both still have to choose where to start a story. So, how do you know where to start a story? I would love to hear from you guys on this.
     
  2. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I am by no means a planner. Usually, I get an idea and write.

    That being said, before I start writing, I always make sure I know the major plot points (inciting event, special world, etc) and start accordingly.

    From what I understand, you always want to start as close to the inciting even as possible. The "normal world" stuff has its place in small doses. I want to meet the main character right before he/she starts his/her journey.
     
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  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I try to start writing where the story starts.

    In order to do that, you have to know what your story is. I could be wrong, but I get the impression from reading queries and plot summaries from new writers that a lot of them don't have a crystal clear idea what their story is. They often know a lot about their setting (especially the SF/F gang) or their characters (especially the UF/YA crowd) but they often can't actually say what their story is.

    When I write romance, this is easy - the story is two characters meeting, overcoming challenges, falling in love, overcoming more challenges, and living happily ever after. So I generally want to start the story very close their first meeting.

    When I write in other genres, it's trickier. I'm a pantser (even when I try to be a plotter) but I think I do need to know what my story is, in general terms, before I start writing it.

    Can you express your story in one or two sentences? If so, start writing as close to the start of that story as you can. If you can't express your story that way, I think you should work on refining your ideas.

    And forget the "show, don't tell" nonsense. I think new writers often think they have to start the story early in order for the reader to understand all the backstory without being told the backstory. But, insofar as backstory is important, it can be told. In clever ways that may not seem like telling, maybe, but still - told.
     
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  4. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Thanks for the replies. I have no idea what the story will be prior to writing it. That's just how I work. What I did realize in my last two attempts is that those were becoming stories I didn't really want to write. It's not that I had some idea that they weren't fitting into. I realized the first time that I didn't want to be writing about characters as young as I had made them. I added about ten years to everyone and started again with a new story. Still too young. I think I really want to be writing about middle-aged characters. I'm not worried about the story coming together so long as I pick a good starting point. I guess maybe there is a little more guesswork involved for writers doing zero plotting or planning. There is no real story in my mind. It's more of a situation than a plot point that I was thinking about and wondering if I could use this somehow.
     
  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you have to either plan things out or be willing to do some serious editing (which could include cutting 20K words of something that doesn't match what your story turns out to be). I just don't see a way to know you're starting in the right place when you don't know where you want to be going.
     
  6. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I guess that is sort of my question. How do you choose the right place to start a story if you don't know what the story is yet? I'm not opposed to rewriting and editing, though, I don't think it's any more or less editing than if I planned or outlined. Things just sort of work or they don't, and I don't think it's always so easy to tell until after the fact, anyway. Plus, the amount of time and work that some writers put in without even writing... I rather just write.
     
  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you may be looking for magic.

    You don't want to plan, but you somehow want to know where the right place to start your story is, even when you don't know what your story will be?

    I'm going to keep watching the thread in case someone has a better idea for this than I do, but really, I don't see how it's possible to do this. If you don't know what your story is, I can't think of how you'd know the best place to start your story.
     
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  8. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    It's short story advice, but I've always gone by "start as close to the end as possible". I have to rewrite the entire first section of this one novel because I realized that I started too close to the end and ended up unloading too much backstory that should've just been told properly, so maybe it's not a flawless approach, but then I'm not a flawless writer, so eh. I guess to elaborate more, I'd say identify your inciting incident and start there, more or less. If you don't know what that is, figure it out. And don't be afraid of editing - it's more important to get something down than it is to get the 'right' thing down. If I'd balked at the first part of that novel being off and stopped, that's 54k I'd've never written.
     
  9. Caveriver
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    Caveriver Active Member

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    I think what I hear you saying is that you have a scene and possibly some characters in your mind's eye. You write to the end of what you see happening, but have no plan other than that? I have heard of succesful writers working in a similar way: writing scenes and interactions as "seen," and only piecing together the storyline as the scenes happen to present a pattern later.
    If you really balk at the thought of planning, maybe you really should only write things as they strike you. Only write linearly if it presents itself very, very easily. Then stick them together later as you see patterns and fill in the blanks as needed. Eventually you will end up with a story.

    I get that some people are going to disagree with me. I don't entirely work this way, but I do find it super helpful when I get stuck.
     
  10. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    Start writing from the scene which is clearest in your mind. The event that will propel the characters on their journey.

    From there, you can decide what needs to come before it. You may decide you don't need anything before it.
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's weird to see your "That's just how I work" in one thread while in another thread you're expressing frustration at all the rejections you're getting. I mean, if you can't change, you can't change, but clearly the way you're currently working isn't getting you the results you want. Maybe it's time to try a different approach?
     

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