1. TheTranskinator
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    TheTranskinator Member

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    Where Do I Start?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by TheTranskinator, Feb 20, 2012.

    Let me start by saying that I'm an extremely new and self taught writer who has written nothing more than the start (which ranges from a prologue to a short chapter) of multiple story ideas I've had. Sadly none of them really panned out because I didn't think them out. But that's not the case right now.

    The story I'm trying to write right now is one that I've been working on for over a year now. I've got the plot down. I have my characters made. I've created my fantasy world. But I just don't know where to start. Now I bet some of you are thinking, "That's just because you THINK you have everything down. Work on your stuff some more and it'll come to you!"

    That's not the case. My problem is that my main characters story is so detailed that I simply don't know where to begin with him. I just need a little feedback on where you guys think I should start the story. And to do that, I'm going to give you some very vague descriptions of him.

    There are a few things you need to know about my story first. One is that it is a fantasy story (think swords, bows, some magic, etc.) and is going to center around the relationship of two brothers (or lack thereof) who used to be very close. In fact my antagonist, who is the elder of the two brothers, was essentially the guardian, caretaker, and role model of the younger sibling. The younger sibling, who is the protagonist of my story, idolized his brother.

    The problem with their relationship is that the antagonist made one selfish mistake (that he regrets deeply) that caused the deaths of everyone that my protagonist knew and loved. This leads my protagonist to become distrustful and angry, and eventually helps him narrow his focus in life to completing one simple goal. To find and kill his older brother.

    The meat of my story is going to be the protagonists quest to find and kill his brother (filled with some extra stuff that really doesn't need to be mentioned for you to help me) but that leaves me with a problem. The problem is that for the reader to have any reason to invest in the story he has to feel the pain that my protagonist suffered from the act of betrayal committed by his brother. But I need to show that extremely strong relationship they had in order for that to work. This leads me to my predicament.

    I don't know where to start the story.

    Option 1: Do I start the story at the very beginning of my protagonist's life?

    Why I'm hesitant: I don't want to bore the readers to death with my protagonist taking his first steps and learning how to talk. I want the story to be exciting. However this will also let me show the readers the little interactions between the brothers, allowing the relationship to feel more real.

    Option 2: Do I just show short scenes of the protagonists life up until the betrayal that emphasize their good relationship?

    Why I'm hesitant: I don't want their relationship to seem forced. I have some scripted scenes that should show bonding, such as the antagonist teaching the protagonist how to fight like him (two swords) or saving his life from a bear at a young age. But if I just show the highlights I think it'd be too forced and the connection wouldn't feel real. Not to mention it wouldn't fit the narrative of the rest of the story in the sense that it goes day by day as he's searching for his brother.

    Option 3: Do I start the story at the betrayal and give a brief summary of their relationship before and drop hints during the dialogue?

    Why I'm hesitant: This seems to me like the weakest option I could present. It wouldn't really emphasize the relationship at all. It would be telling, not showing. Although starting out with a dramatic and exciting scene would be nice...

    Option 4: Do I start the story at the beginning of my protagonist's search for his brother and subtly drop hints as to what their relationship was, how the betrayal went down, and have a few flashbacks that could include some highlights all the way up until the confrontation between the siblings?

    Why I'm hesitant: I think this could be a good option, although I'm not sure how invested the reader would be in the quest for the majority of the story. It wouldn't be very emotional to the reader for a long time until I could finally drop enough hints and explain their previous relationship.

    Option 5: I have no idea, suggestions please :D

    What should I do? I'm not saying I'll listen to you and do what you say in the long run, but any advice as to which option I should pick (or how I should pick the option myself) would be greatly appreciated. Also any feedback you would like to give me on my vague and poorly explained plot would be nice.

    Thanks ahead of time guys...
     
  2. Rapscallion
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    Rapscallion Active Member

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    I would go with your option 2. You could gradually shorted the gaps between scenes from years to months to weeks and eventually to days. That way you sort of time warp the readers to where you want them to be and take the story from there, while giving them any background on the characters that they need.

    Just a thought.
     
  3. cold grave
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    cold grave Member

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    Option 4. We all can imagine how he could have been close to his brother before the incident, that point doesn't have to be hammered at all. If you have flashbacks, use them very very sparingly. The MC should be involved in other events and with supporting characters. His problem with his brother doesn't even have to be the main focus for a chapter or two. He could have buried it deep down, or moved to a distant city, until one day he sees his brother briefly, throwing all the other loyalties and duties in his life into chaos.

    I have an interesting option 5. Change the MC to the brother who made the mistake and caused the problem. He runs away from home, afraid his brother will murder him. Years later, his brother shows up looking for help. Think of it as a modified story of Joseph.
     
  4. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    One Idea you might want to consider, especially if you're doing a fantasy is do more than one book. You'd need to be willing to do a lot of extra work, but if say you were doing a trilogy: the first book could have the two as allies, facing some adversity. The second could have a rift forming between the two and by the end they're enemies. And the third could be them as enemies. You could probably squish that down to two if you wanted. As I say it's a lot of extra work but if this is your dream career rather than just a hobby then it should be worth it.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Just write it in the order that feels most natural to you, probably chronologically from the beginning. You will have plenty of time in the revision process to rearrange it and trim out unnecessary material.

    And don't overdefine your characters before you start. Let them evolve naturally as the story develops. You are encountering the reason for that right now - that obsession of having to explain the character to the reader. That is poison to your story.

    Most important: Start writing and get it on "paper."
     
  6. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok, first thing that would never work for me is to already have a very detailed character's story, whether you are referring to the story you will talk about or personal history. What works for me is to spend time, sometimes a very long time, in bringing characters to life. Some general info like age, origin, family situation, past traumas etc are good to get down, but this is usually not a detailed life story. But what I do go into details over is exactly what kind of person my character is. By the time I feel I know them better than I would know a friend, I can easily write anything with them in it including their backstory if and when I need it. But I don't even have to mention any personal history, that can be deduced from his/her reactions.

    So, the way I'd approach your questions is to simply have the protagonist react, think and consider his brother like someone who had all these experiences would. He knows how he feels about his brother, there is no need for him to "explain" this to himself (because you are writing his point of view, as if you were in his head, what he sees, what he thinks, etc). At different point you can write in a short flashback, thus revealing, as he is nearing his brother, just how severe are the issues between them.
    Reader will pick up on these things easily, and by freeing yourself to start the story in the middle of something interesting in the "here and now", you are giving your book the best chance of "hooking" the reader.
     
  7. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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    This is probably not the most efficient advice, but I would try all of them. Seriously. Write a few pages of each beginning. This is a very fast way to find which ones are complete dead ends and which might actually go somewhere. There are some basic suggestions I can offer (not that I'm so skilled myself, mind you), but until you try writing them, it's very difficult to know. From what you say, I think I'd advise against the first option just because I've seen a lot of beginners try to start with biographies, and these usually wind up being long narratives where the story is told rather than shown. But note my use of the word "usually." I wouldn't venture to say that it could never be done successfully. Whether you choose options 2,3, or 4 seems to depend largely on what the main focus of your story is about: is it primarily about the relationship and how it sours, or is it really about the quest to find the brother? If it's the former, you need to spend time developing the relationship and you need to do it in scenes, which sounds most like option 2. If it's primarily about the quest, 4 seems like the best option. 3 could work, but I'd be wary of it because it might reveal too much too quickly. It might be more interesting for the reader to watch the guy on this quest for a while before we're told what it is about. But, of course, it depends on how interesting the quest is.

    I can't say for option 5, but I thought you might be interested to know the evolution of my own story beginning. My current project is inspired by something I learned in history class: in 1937 Germany, the Nazis put on a display of art they considered unfit to be called German. I found this intriguing, so I started developing 2 characters who are both artists during this time, but one rejects the Nazis and one apathetically accepts them. I got so into these people's lives, that I first wanted to start in the 1920s, when the two guys met. Then, I realized this wasn't so interesting: the story is about the Nazis, and they don't come until 1933. So then I thought I'd start in 1933. But in my narrative structure, this was all wrong. So finally, I realized that I should probably start with the actual event that inspired me in the first place! Now it starts in 1937 with the opening of the exhibition. I am still exploring other beginnings, but this has been by far the most successful and I think it's here to stay. So in sum: you don't have to know right away. You just have to get started and see what works.
     
  8. TheTranskinator
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    TheTranskinator Member

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    Thanks everyone so far for commenting and helping me out

    @cold grave

    I was actually planning on writing parts of the story from the antagonist's point of view. Nothing major, but just a few scenes from his eyes. I'm set on who my protagonist is though, as his tale is the one I want to tell. I do have a question about flashbacks though. Say I go with option 4 but I wish to show a few specific scenes from his past. Would it be flashback overkill if my main character sees things that remind him of his past relationship with his brother and some of the events that impacted it, thus leading him to relive some of those memories as he sleeps? Like each time he sleeps after seeing something that reminds him of the past we have a flashback, followed by a small segment of the betrayal that would get longer and longer until it eventually shows how the entire betrayal went down. I don't know, that's just a thought I had.

    @Protar

    Actually I was planning on making it a trilogy of sorts. My original plan was for the first book to take place when they were younger and living in their small village. It'd contain all their misadventures from their young age that would eventually lead up to the betrayal that cost him everything. I'm just unsure whether or not I should actually make the start of my story in their youth, or if I should skip what would have been the first book and work the details into two books.

    @jazzabel

    I know my main character Maelthran better than I know myself :D When developing my plot and doing some writing that didn't pan out, I could legitimately feel myself stepping into his shoes and feel his pain. You could seriously give me any hypothetical situation and I could tell you exactly what he'd do and why he'd do it. I just can't seem to get a start that feels right for the story I wish to tell. The "here and now" thing does make sense though.

    @jo spumoni

    In reality I don't think the story can work without the relationship being focused on, but I don't think it'd be interesting without the quest. And I'm kind of in the same predicament that you were in for your story. I personally find every moment of my character's lives fascinating. But that's because they're mine and I love them like real people. But I doubt the readers want to read about this stuff. So I guess what I'm really struggling with is what to start with.

    Sorry if I didn't make much sense in this post. I kinda rushed it... thanks for your continued advice
     
  9. jo spumoni
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    jo spumoni Active Member

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  10. cold grave
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    cold grave Member

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    That could work, although I would think he would simply have a recurring nightmare of the worst part of the betrayal. If the reader has access to his dreams, it seems artificial to ration out the past information.

    Dreams are a big danger zone, IMHO. I'm probably different from everyone, but I frequently skip through all but the shortest 'dreaming' passages. There are many ways to give backstory. One way to integrate the past into the story is to alternate "present" and "past" chapters. That way, the betrayal doesn't come until near the end of the book.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first thought was to go with Option 6: Start with the moment that the younger brother swings his sword/axe/club/whatever at his brother's head. See what happens after that.

    I know, I know, this looks like the end of the story. But something about the way that you describe the events makes me think of everything before that as backstory.

    Maybe what came before feels too logical, too easy to understand? Parent and child (I know they're brothers, but that's the functional relationship), child growing up, child coming of age and realizing that his parent is flawed (in this case extremely flawed). I guess that's what I'm feeling - it's a coming-of-age story so far, and those stories generally start _at_ the coming of age, not so far before.

    To me, definitely, that's the moment when the story starts.
     
  12. Aarviunaa
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    Aarviunaa New Member

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    Here is an idea for consideration.
    Opening chapter: have the protagonist pacing around, in anger, asking why and explaining what happened to himself, stating that he is going to get his brother back no matter what. He then falls asleep exausted anger
    Chpt 2: The protagonist scene opens with him in court and his lawyer arguing his defense to save him from a murder charge.
    Chpt 3 and following chapters: The whole story gets told by the Protagonist with asides from the Lawyer.
    Final chapter: The Protagonist wakes up from his sleep and the horror of his vengence dream, and decides that forgiveness is better than revenge, he goes to meet his brother, they reconcile and the reader gets to smile at a happy ending.
     
  13. TheTranskinator
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    TheTranskinator Member

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    @ChickenFreak

    It's not necessarily a flaw. I'm going to spoil some details of the betrayal so I can give everyone a little more knowledge and understanding of my main character's anger and my antagonists wrong doing.

    As I've said before my main character looked up to his brother his entire life. My main character kind of assumed that caretaker role for their younger half sister. If there was one person he loved as much as his brother, it was his sister. He felt completely responsible for her, and one thing about my main character is that he cannot letting someone down.

    Eventually sometime in their backstory (or possible what I write, that's what I'm needing help on :D) my protagonist and his brother inadvertently cause a group of bandits to begin a siege/raid on their village and there is no way to escape. The elder brother, wishing to save both of their lives, cuts a deal with the bandits behind the protagonists back that would allow them to leave but essentially leave the others to die. My protagonist refuses to leave his sister to die, and the brothers have a very emotional standoff. In the end the older brother reluctantly leaves while the younger stays to help defend the village, which is destroyed and everyone except my main character is killed (including his sister, who is executed before his very eyes)

    Also, as a side note, during the majority of the story the older brother believes both of his siblings are dead, and feels really bad about it. If he could go back and redo things he would have stayed and tried to help stop the bandits.

    So yeah, the main reason I went into detail was to show why I don't see it as a flaw, more one lapse in judgement. And I also see the story as more of revenge/redemption story rather than a coming of age story. That's just me though. I do appreciate the feedback though, and even though I probably won't use your advice it's definitely got me thinking.

    @jo spumoni

    I think you understand what I think pretty well. I really do feel like I know my characters every thought and how they would react to things. And I too feel like it is important to know your characters. I really didn't think about the fact that I don't need to explain everything though, so I appreciate your input yet again.

    @cold grave

    I honestly think I'm going to stay away from the dreams altogether. I don't really like alternating between past and present either. I've read a book that does something similar to that, and I found that I really, really wanted to skip one storyling (I think the present) because the past just interested me more. That just really turns me off from the idea. Thanks for the idea though.

    EDITING IN RESPONSE TO Aarviunaa

    @Aarviunaa

    I like the idea, although I have to nit-pick at a few things. My only real problem with it is that my fantasy world doesn't have a real court system or lawyers and such. Also, the only part of my story that I don't have 95% sure (things can always change) is whether or not he will kill his brother. I also have a few twists I could throw in for that final confrontation. I'm really not sure what I'm going to do. I do thank you for the idea though
     
  14. spelsh
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    spelsh Member

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    Just start writing. Things will work themselves out as you go along. For example, maybe what you see as the first chapter, in time you may feel is better introduced later on. You seem to have done a lot of planning, so don't waste time thinking too much, just get going with it and enjoy yourself! Good luck!
     
  15. TH3T4
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    TH3T4 New Member

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    Well i would have it put at the first signiture moment of their connection, but show a glimmer of something smaller than the big betrayell, like blaming the younger brother for an accident, then gradually build up to it.
     
  16. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    Start wherever you like and just go with it.

    The advice form everyone here is largely about where they would start - it's a personal preference issue..and thats a good thing because if we were all the same.......

    START - Its the gift of your writing that will make any, all, or none of the ideas work. Just go with it - you can always go back and bin bits later, add bits or do whatever!
     
  17. leke101
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    leke101 Member

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    Personally, I would go with option 3. I like stories that start at the heat of the moment. Start immediately at the conflict and work your way back from there by sprinkling a bit of back-story as you go along.
     

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