1. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    When to start the story

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Lea`Brooks, Feb 20, 2014.

    Hello all!

    I'm writing a New Adult Fantasy novel, and I'm struggling to determine when to start the story. The basic storyline is my MC lives in a small town just outside the capital city with her grandmother. A big event, called the Claiming, is set to happen. It's basically the crowning of the new Queen. And my MC is going to be this new Queen. So!

    Option 1) I originally wanted to start the story the morning of the Claiming. My MC was going to do some last minute errands for her grandmother before she left for the capital to watch the Claiming. Granny doesn't want MC to go, so after granny leaves, MC recruits her friends and goes anyway without granny's permission, thus bringing her to the Claiming where she gets crowned as the new Queen. The only problem with this choice is, once MC gets into the castle, her relationships and life changes so dramatically that her relationships with the people she was close with before start to fall apart.

    Option 2) So to give the reader more time to get to know her old friends and old life better, I had thought of maybe starting the story three or four days before the Claiming, allowing her time to bond with her friends and show the conflict already existing between them. I would also include her granny not wanting her to go to the Claiming. But the problem with this option is, the Claiming would happen too late in the story. I know how important it is to start the story as soon as possible to draw the reader in.

    Option 3) So I came up with this alternative in which I'd start the story moments before the Claiming. I'd have MC and her friends walk into the capital, see the sights, smell the smells. I thought of possibly adding a scene in which her granny finds her and scolds her for not staying home, to which she runs away and gets lost in the crowd. But then the problem with this option goes back towards the second, in which the reader would have little to no time to get to know the MC as a small-town farm girl who has no desire to be Queen, or her relationships with the people around her.

    I really want people to be sympathetic but excited for my MC. It's important that they get a feel for who she is (a no one, basically) before she becomes Queen. Option 3 sacrifices all that. There's no way I could fit all of that PLUS the Claiming into the first chapter. Option 2 provides all that time, but I worry that the Claiming would happen too late, possibly chapter five or six. Option 1 really would be ideal, which would give some time to meet MC and her friends and show the conflict between her and granny, but I worry it wouldn't be enough time. And then the Claiming would come in chapter two or three, but is that also too late in the story?


    What do you think?
    --Lea
     
  2. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Start with some kind of "sign" or portent, an event that notifies/warns the reader that something is coming and setting the mood.

    Then spend a bit of time on the trip to the castle showing the relationships between the MC and her friends and building a little sympathy and reader empathy for the MC, lightening the tone again.

    Once at the castle, resume the pace and let all the fireworks of the "Claiming" happen.
     
  3. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I understand what you're trying to do. I don't generally like doing it this way, but...

    Chapter 1 starts with the Claiming scene. MC is at the Claiming event, in the middle of all the clamor, and then suddenly is selected to be the new queen.

    Stop.

    Begin Chapter 2, which predates Chapter 1 by however much time you think you need. You can develop all the characters as needed and work your way back to the Claiming (multiple chapters as you need them). Once at the Claiming, you can break again and begin the next chapter where Chapter 1 left off.

    It's sort of a flashback method of accomplishing what you need. You hook the reader with Chapter 1, then backstory through the next few chapters so the reader learns about your character(s), eventually leading them once again to the place you started and you continue from there.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Start with the action, fill in the backstory later as you go.
     
  5. Who
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    I mostly agree with Ginger. However, be cautious not to always jump into anything really exciting immediately. It must be interesting but you don't have to start with adrenaline. In fact, it can work against you if you do it every time. But, definitely don't start with the back story. No one cares about that until they have figured out what the story is going to be about and how the characters are acting. Kind of like how someone you would have ignored as they went on and on about themselves for two hours... somehow becomes interesting once they have done something drastic or significant. How and why is what is being sought in backstory, not a bunch of irrelevant particulars.
     
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  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    "Action" was probably too little explanation. I didn't mean something going on like a fight scene or anything like that. Not that kind of action. But rather start where the story actually starts, don't start with backstory or things that explain what is going on where the story starts.
     
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  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think you might be worrying a little over nothing. A chapter is actually quite a lot of space. I've seen Henning Mankell (Swedish crime author) portray the closeness between Wallander and his daughter within 1 short paragraph, and Mankell portrayed Wallander's longing for Baiba, the woman he's in love with, and yet too afraid to pursue but can't give up pursuing within a measly page and a half. You just have to make every word count, but it is actually possible to show all that you want to show - the relationships, the MC's status - within a few pages.

    Or take Hunger Games - read Chapter 1. The Reaping happens about 2/3rds of the way through and ends with Primrose Everdeen being picked for the Games. The rest of the chapter is precisely what you're trying to do - portraying Katniss' life before she goes to the games, her relationship with Gale. That 1 little dialogue that was only a page or two long between Katniss and Gale with a little short backstory dropped in was enough to have me torn between Gale and Peta (the other love interest) and I didn't even change my mind and favour Peta until about half way through the SECOND book. That tells you how effective that very, very short portrayal of Katniss and Gale was. Katniss was also a nobody, her tension with her mother and her intense love for Prim and her intimate relationship with Gale and even her daily life of hunting and selling at the Hob (the black market) were all portrayed well and in detail, without delaying the Reaping.

    So, what I'm saying is, it's possible. Don't scare yourself before you've begun! It's difficult, but for that, I'd advise you to read some openings you've enjoyed that does what you're trying to do. Shouldn't be too hard. Your premise is pretty common (commoner gets chosen for something life-altering) so there should be plenty of good examples to learn from.
     
  8. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks everyone for your responses! You really gave me a lot to think about.

    I like the idea of starting at the Claiming, then going back to fill in the backstory leading up to the Claiming. That really throws the reader into the story and lets them know what's going on. But then it gives me plenty of time to reveal my MC as a whole before really getting into royal living. However, like you, I don't typically like to do things that way. It's an interesting idea, but I'm going to have to weigh that option against others before I make a final decision.

    Mckk-- I have read the Hunger Games, so I know exactly what you're talking about. I forgot how the book started, and yes, it was very effective. The reader was able to learn about her poverty and her relationships with her loved ones and still have the Reaping in the first chapter. Ideally, I'd like to be able to pull this off.

    My initial issue was the time it would take to get from where I start to the actual Claiming. I had originally planned to start my MC in her home town, in which she has the discussion with her granny about not going to the Claiming. I was also going to include some of the traveling to the capital which is a certain distance away, then take her through the city to the palace and blah blah blah. So I was worried it would be too much for the first chapter.

    But! I think there's a lot I could pull out. I could start with MC and her friends on the road, just outside the capital, instead of in town. That way I could get the tail end of her conversations, build the tension, have a small discussion about her defiance, give a preview of her relationships, and still include the Claiming. There originally were a few scenes that I felt I absolutely had to have in the first chapter to build the plot and draw the reader in. But now, I realize I only have just one. And I could fit that in the chapter if I decide to do things this way.

    I think I'll read the first chapters of a few fantasy novels in my collection and see how they do things. Maybe it'll give me some more pointers that I'm missing. I'll try to rough out both ideas as a possible first chapter and see which one works best.


    Thanks again everyone! Your input really helped. =)
    --Lea
     
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  9. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Based on this remark, I'd say that you don't have a full understanding of what a story is. I don't mean that as an insult. It's that readers don't come to us to "get to know" the characters." They come to borrow our imagination and play a grown-up game of Let's Pretend. They're not with us to learn, other than as a byproduct. They're looking for entertainment. They want reason to worry, to be excited, and in general have their emotions stimulated. They don't care that so-and-so is in love, they want to be made to fall in love. They don't care what made the character what they are. They want to stand in the protagonist's bootprints as a phantom in their world, and live the adventure, in real-time, with the protagonist as their avatar. They want to be in the tiny slice of time the protagonist calls now, and wonder what in the hell they're going to do next. They don't want the time to sit and reason through the problem. They want to be so busy trying to figure what to do next that they can think of nothing else.

    And to get them in that state you start the story as close to the end as you can. Every scene has some common elements. Our protagonist will have a specific goal, and something will interfere with it, bringing tension to the narration and frustration to the protagonist. They will try to "get things back on track," but fail, and keep on failing. They may change their goal as a result of events, but they won't accomplish that new goal, either. The situation will worsen, until the protagonist has no choice but to withdraw in defeat, rethink and lick their wounds, and start again with a new goal, which will fail, too.

    So look at your story. Find the point at whichthings change from a chronicle of events to staving off disaster. That's your inciting incident. Back up by enough to get your character started with the scene goal that will be thwarted, and start writing.
     
  10. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with JayG, and to be honest there will probably be ample opportunity to show her old self. Looking back at history people that are thrust in to positions of power (especially from poverty)are rarely suited for the job or have a hard time adapting, kings and queens are trained from a young age so maybe her outlook during the beginning of the story and her new found position could reflect some of that old personality you want to show.

    For example a porper-come-queen sympathetic to the poorer people might differ if she was from a privileged background, her attitude towards other pompous nobility maybe another opportunity to show her character and then the reader could watch it change as the story continues.
     
  11. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's exactly what I'm trying to do. But the reader won't be able to worry or be excited about my MC and where she's headed until they know who she was and where she's been. It's her transformation that's important.

    I'm not saying I want to start at her infancy and build up her entire life to show how she was raised and what made her who she is. I'm saying that they need to know who she was to truly appreciate who she becomes. Once the Claiming takes place, she changes dramatically. If I throw her into the Claiming with little to no time to get to know the "her" before the Claiming, then the reader would have no idea that she'd even changed. So why would they care about her? Like I said, I didn't want to give too much -- just enough to give the reader a taste. Like Mckk pointed out above, how Hunger Games gave a taste for who Katniss was before the Reaping.

    My MC is this small-town girl with a few close friends and one known family member who is suddenly thrust into a world where she's praised and worshiped and respected. She goes from being sweet and innocent and likable to being slightly cynical and hardened by having to make difficult decisions. If I skip her interactions with her friends in the beginning, the reader will miss the entire transformation. And her transformation is what's important. Because after the Claiming, everything is different. She becomes the Queen and has to change her entire demeanor. She's not even allowed one on one time with anyone until the hype of her crowning settles down, so she won't have much interaction with her friends until well into the novel. The Harry Potter series didn't start at the battle with Voldemort or even his first day at school. It started at home, interacting with his cruel and dismissive family before getting his summons to Hogwarts. The build-up, the changing, is important.

    I know what a story is. Do you?
     
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  12. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    No they won't. It's not something that happens in a heart beat. If we're in her POV, as against you telling the reader what you see happening in the scene you're viewing in your mind, we'll see her thinking process change, and be part of it.

    If you've not read it, a small investment in Debra Dixon's, Goal Motivation and Conflict (available for either Kindle or epub readers like Nook) will give you the tools to shape your story into an exciting read. An alternative, often found in your local library system, is Jack Bickham's, Scene and Structure. A bit of time spent with either can make a huge difference in your ability to make the choices you need to make so as to present your story to best effect.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Just from what you wrote in your OP, @Lea`Brooks, I'd say to start with your MC and her friends discussing The Claiming in their ordinary personas. Maybe while they're walking into town to go to it, or whatever. Granny's warning can be brought into the conversation as well.

    This way we get to meet your MC as she starts the story. We are watching her interact with her friends, we are learning a bit about her family. But if the friends are discussing The Claiming (not hairstyles, boyfriends, etc), this will not only provide background information on The Claiming and some character development as well—each person will probably have a different view of it–but the discussion will produce an over-riding impression that something important is about to happen. That's the hook here.

    Make sure the IMPORTANCE of The Claiming gets stressed in this scene. If these young people are looking forward to it, why? If they are a bit nervous about it, why?


    I'm with @Mckk here. Don't scare yourself. Just write the scene.

    I've read before that stories 'should start at the point of change.' However, this doesn't mean DURING the change, which is how some inexperienced writers tend to interpret this advice. It's the point where change is about to happen. Which means you start with the ordinary, but don't linger overlong. I think that's not bad advice.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2014
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  14. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just out of curiosity, If the Mc doesn't even know beforehand that she has the possibility to become the next queen, what exactly is it that make them choose her? I mean, she could even have not been going to the claiming, so it seems almost like a coincidence.
     
  15. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's complicated. lol If you really wanna know, I gotta go full-blown spoiler alert on you..

    The Claiming isn't an election -- it's a selection. I have a character that I call the Light. She is basically the Oracle of Delphi of my story. She can see the potential outcomes of events and see into people's futures. The Claiming happens every five years, in which five city "rulers" (like mayors -- I call them Banhri's) are brought to the capital to be judged by the Light. She reads their future potential and picks one to be the Eir (Queen) that she believes would rule the country the best.

    But about 23 years before my story starts, the Eir disappeared. Since then, every Claiming has ended without the Light choosing a replacement. But there was a prophesy given by the previous Light stating when the next Eir would be Claimed.

    So! The book starts at this Claiming, the one where the first Eir in 23 years is supposed to be Claimed. So of course, my MC wants to be there because she's never seen her country with an Eir. When she gets to the capital, she gets too close to the stage and to the Light, and my MC is Claimed instead of the Banhri's on stage.

    It's revealed later that my MC's mother (who my MC thought had died when she was an infant) was the Eir that had disappeared all those years ago. My MC's granny knew this, so she didn't want MC to go and risk being Claimed (for reasons I won't get into now :p). And since the previous Eir had been so powerful, she passed on all her gifts to MC, thus making the Light Claim her instead of the other people...


    Make sense? lol
     
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  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wow, that sounds interesting! :) good luck. It's gonna be great!
     
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  17. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    i see no problems with the plot and the idea to be honest, all sounds good. I think its got a little off topic
     
  18. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Off-topic is okay. lol Honestly, I was a little worried about sharing all that. :p I've been pretty guarded about my book and the details of it. It's taken me a long time to develop it and I worry what people will think about it.

    So thank you both for the encouragement! :) No better feeling than people interested in my idea.
     
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  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It sounds interesting, I really like it :) btw, also really like the title Eir. Don't worry about what others will think, and keep at it!

    Out of interest, so without an Eir, who's been ruling all this time?
     
  20. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you so much! :oops: In Norse mythology, Eir is a goddess or Valkyrie associated with medical skill. And while my MC isn't going to have any medical skill, I still liked the goddess part. Plus, my MC is the heir of an Eir... Get it? :p

    Anyway. I have a group of people called the Collective who act as a body of advisors (like a king's royal council) to the Eir at the time. But in her absence, they've been ruling instead. :)
     
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  21. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    So "Eir" is pronounced like "heir"? I've been pronouncing it "Eyer" :D
     
  22. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I need to read this book! :)
     
  23. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, it's pronounced Eyer. I just like how it looks like heir. :D

    Tesoro, thank you so much. :oops: Like I said, I'm real cautious of giving people too much information on this book. It's my baby and I'm going to be very protective of it until it's published. lol I'm always afraid I'll tell people about it, but they'll give me reason to doubt myself and I'll want to start all over. :(

    So this is awesome! :D Thank you all so much for the support.
     
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  24. Poziga
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    Poziga Contributing Member Contributor

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    I smiled when I read the summary of the story, it sounds really interesting. If you'll manage to pull this of properly, there will be another great fantasy novel to be read in the world! :D

    I know how you feel. :D I also try to never talk about my ideas to too many people. I have one friend with who I share all ideas and that's it. Unfortunately, I have another friend who wrote a story and then some bastard stole it for a contest. The story was the winner and the bastard claimed a 1000€ prize with my friend's story. :/

    I like what Mckk suggested, start with the selection and then shortly explain who she is/was.
    The Hunger Games case was already mentioned, so I'll skip that. You mentioned Harry Potter and his battle with Voldemort. I don't think this is a good example. The defeat of Voldemort is everything What Potter series is about and it happens at the end. The selections of your story happens at the beginning, so I guess The Claiming isn't the summit of your story, right?
    The Caliming could be compared with Hagrid telling Harry he is a wizard which happens around page fifty. This is actually where yours and Harry's story begins. The structure is quite similar when you look at it. J. K. Rowling started her story with Dumbledore bringing Harry to the Dursleys and he tells us how extraordinary Harry is (nothing is mentioned about the wizarding world I think, except for the flying motorcycle). Then, on around forty pages, is described the life of Harry Potter, but she adds some elements (like the ZOO event) which makes us think something is not right and we read further. It is around the page fifty where we are told Harry is actually a wizard.
    So both books, Hunger Games and Harry Potter start with one particular event and then describe the MC's background.

    If you choose not to start this way, John Grisham said that the story should not start after fortieth page, but sooner. His theory suggests that reader puts the book down if nothing happens until page forty. And he really sticks to this point, in one book, he starts the main story on page 39. :D
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2014
  25. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Just start the story with a hook, then introduce us to your character. I like something that gets me excited and curious in the beginning of the book. If not, it will bore the hell out of me till I get to the interesting part.
     

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