1. Tim_Ashe
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    Tim_Ashe New Member

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    Where to begin the story? (At the beginning? Hmm...)

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Tim_Ashe, Feb 25, 2014.

    I've got a great idea for a novel and I've been developing my characters and plotlines a little (okay, a lot) on paper... I guess that I'm getting a little overwhelmed with the planning and having some trouble diving in.

    I've read warnings against burdening ourselves with thinking too much about a "plot" before we put pen to paper, and I've always heard that a story should flow organically. But I guess I'm just not sure how one plucks a story out of thin air. I'm thinking that perhaps it's more a matter of having some ideas in mind, but not necessarily having anything hard and fast, allowing oneself to meander and be flexible with the course of the story. Still, it seems like it'd be tricky dive in with no prior idea of how the scene is going to go.

    Also, I'm really not sure where I should start my novel in a more concrete sense (as in, do I start at page 1, or jump around?) I've heard that you don't write a story from A to Z, but rather in bits and pieces as they come to you. Yet it still seems tricky for me to just jump into a scene if I haven't established what brought the characters into it in the first place. As a result, the scene just seems a little... sparse.

    Just wanted to see if these questions resonate with anybody out there. I appreciate your thoughts.
     
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  2. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    The thing with writing is this: it's pretty much all a matter of opinion, and the questions you just asked are no exception. When wondering about diving into your story without truly knowing where it's going to go, that's opinion. Some prefer to be a pantser (writing as they go with no previous planning) and some prefer to be planners; some even combine the two to suit their own way. With me I'm a combination, but if I had to choose, I like pantsing it. Still, that doesn't have to be you. Go with what you think would suit your personality best. And if that way doesn't go well, then try the other way!

    As far as when to write your story, write a couple of scenes you consider exciting. It could be at the beginning, middle, or the end - it doesn't matter. What does matter is seeing whether this story is doing anything for you. I write my stories from A to Z and haven't ever done it any other way, but again, that's just me. It's opinion. See what fits you. :)
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    What you've heard is not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It's just one way of doing it and many writers swear by it. There are those who plan their stories before starting to write (myself included) and think that is The best Way. It's all a matter of what works best for you.

    When it comes to where to start... Even here you can do it either way. Try both and see what works best for you. If you prefer writing the scenes as they come to you, then do that, you can puzzle them together later and write whatever needed to make the transitions between them.
     
  4. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    You haven't heard that from any publisher or teacher of writing. Stop listening to people who haven't managed to get a publisher to say yes. They're only guessing. And the advice they give might be to do the thing that's making publishers tell them no. But the pros, the people who make their money selling their fiction, the teachers, and the publishers know. If you're like me when I began I had not a glimmer that the writing skills I learned school were designed to help me on the job, and were the kind of writing employers required: fact-based and author-centric, designed to inform clearly, concisely, and dispassionately. They weren't much help in creating the character-centric and emotion based writing that fiction readers expect to be entertained with.

    And there's the reason you're having trouble knowing where to begin, and how the story should flow. You're still thinking in terms of, "What, where, why, and when"—plot points and chronicling. An because you're thinking in terms of "telling" the story, your experience with verbal storytelling is also getting in the way. Storytelling is a performance art that translates, not at all, to the page.

    See the problem? You have the desire and the enthusiasm but your toolbox needs a bit of filling. You need to know the nuts and bolts of what a scene and a story is. You need to know what motivates a reader, and how to make them identify with characters in your story. Point of view, and how you place your reader into your character's POV in real-time, is critical knowledge. Knowing how to begin a story and then end that beginning is a must if you're to begin one—as you've noticed. If we don't know what a reader needs to know and what gets in the way and slows the narrative we're going to confuse or bore our reader, without knowing we're doing it.

    The good news is that the necessary skills aren't any harder to learn than the techniques of writing a report were. They're just something to fit a different situation; something to be acquired and practiced till it feels as natural as the techniques you use now.

    At the moment you're sitting on the wrong end of Mark Twain's advice, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” And your "just ain't so," is getting in your way.

    Two quick helps and a couple of slow ones.

    First, to help you understand a scene, try this. To place a reader on the scene in the POV of your protagonist, this may help give you a feel for the difference in approach. And I have some writing articles in my blog that may give you some hints and background. But if those things make a bit of sense, and you would like to dig deeper, two possibilities:

    First is Debra Dixon's, GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict, available for Kindle or Nook. It's ideal for the new writer because it's a warm easy read.

    Another, actually better book can often be found in the local library system: Jack Bickham's, Scene and Structure. There are lots of others, and you should probably look at several, to get a feel for where you need to go next.

    Hng in there, and keep writing. It keeps us off the streets at night.
     
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  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi Tim, welcome to the forum.

    I can only give you my own experience. I wrote my whole two volume story out in a detailed rough draft. I've not gone back to the draft, rather I started writing the story and since I know it, the draft is there but I don't need it. I think it'll be interesting when I'm done to go back and see what I wrote.

    I began writing scenes which were complete in themselves, some were backstory, some were current story. I tried to write the beginning, all those advisories to have a hook and it had to be perfect, those were intimidating. I stopped worrying about how to integrate the backstory and where to start and just kept writing the chapters. About halfway through it began to fall into place how I would put my chapters together.

    So that's what I have to offer. Don't worry about the beginning, don't worry about the story being perfect from start to finish. Begin writing whichever parts of the story you are ready to write and let it work itself out.
     
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  6. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    Jay, if only published writers are allowed to give their opinions, it will be very quiet here.
    Hetty
     
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  7. jannert
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    Yes, that's the way I write as well. Unless you're writing-by-numbers, ideas will occur to you AS you write. Connections you hadn't thought of before will spring into being. Story threads you thought would lead somewhere may become less important and can be dropped.

    I agree with @GingerCoffee here. Let your story develop as you write. Once you're finished (and you do need to finish) then you can shape the story so it flows strongly. You can create the hook, because then you will know exactly what effect you need. It's a lot easier to prune, chop and change than it is to get it all exactly right in your head before you even start. The extra stuff you write and discard will NOT be wasted effort. It's all a learning curve.
     
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  8. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I think it's important to keep in mind that, wherever you, as the author, begin, it does not necessarily follow that that must be the "beginning" of your novel.

    I have one friend who, in each of her projects, starts writing some time before the inciting event of the plot, to start building up, get into the character's head, and feel comfortable. When she reads over, again, she cuts the first few chapters, and makes the "right" chapter her first chapter.

    Another one of my friends goes through and writes all of his favorite/most exciting/best known scenes first, then tries to connect the dots, if you will, trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B to point C. Eventually, he works his way backwards to the beginning.

    While I, personally, tend to start at what I've determined to be the beginning of my particular story, I often end up chopping more, anyway. In one of my current projects, there are ten chapters written that I consider the "first" ten chapters, though I've thought, in depth, about cutting all of them, and beginning from what is currently Chapter 11.

    I guess, what I'm trying to get at, is two key things: 1. There is no rule about where you have to start writing. It can be anywhere - beginning, middle or end. & 2. Just because you've determined your beginning, doesn't mean it has to remain your beginning. You can chop chapters off or add chapters to the beginning.
     
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  9. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Are you saying that it's not necessary to learn the craft and technique of the profession you hope to practice? That one can simply do what "feels right" and present the result as having the same value as professional knowledge—that centuries of refinement have produced no useful knowledge?

    Seems to me that the measure of advice is that it works for the one giving it not that they sincerely believe in it.

    How can we tell people, "What I'm about to suggest doesn't match what the teachers of the profession, or even the most successful writers recommend. And it hasn't resulted in anything but rejection for me. But this is what you should do." Unless our advice is grounded either in personal success, or that of people who have achieved success, that's exactly what we're saying.

    I've never said that people shouldn't comment, only that the reader and our PO specificly, should understand that while any advice given is sincere, what's being advised might be the thing keeping the one giving the advice from success. Were our OP to follow the advice "warning against burdening ourselves with thinking too much about a "plot," We can be absolutely certain that even were it in some way true, that OP hasn't the context to understand what the advice means—and demonstrably has been confused by it, to the point of asking for help. That's a point in his favor. Should I have advised him to just do as he pleases and hope for the best? Would you give that advice to someone wanting to be a pilot, a race car driver, or an engineer? Of course not. Why is writing the lone profession exempt from having a body of knowledge that the practitioner must acquire and perfect?
     
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  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    To Tim - If like watching Youtube videos there's a guy on there, a professor who writes a short story in real time. He's got a ton of videos at 2 hours a piece so I didn't watch all of them, just part of the first one. It was really interesting and encouraging to see someone do what I do - take an idea, toy with it and start typing out words. No plan.

    The video if you're interested is called Inside Creative Writing by Floridastate.

    He's also won a Pulitzer Prize.

    But all techniques are what they are - good for the one purporting them but not necessarily good for everyone. I don't mean concrete things like basic grammar. I mean books, blogs, articles that lay things out bit by bit. They're never a guarantee that it will work for you, nor should it be.

    There are so many different kinds of writers out there. You should think about what type of writer you want to be and get sound advice to achieve that particular type of writing. Sometimes I think when we suggest certain books or even me with my articles that recommend patterns or ideas written as if in stone we're actually scaring off the next Francesca Lia Block, Russell Hoban, Joyce Lee Wong, Mark Z Danielewski, Craig Clevenger, George Dickerson ( whose short story Chico is amazing. )
     
  11. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    After spending half a lifetime writing half finished short stories, I was never really able to get on with a project until I had an epiphany moment for a whole book, where I suddenly knew broadly what the start, middle and end would encompass.

    Inspired by this knowledge I then set about discovering that turning a flash of inspiration into an entire novel is rather difficult. Nevertheless I have been ploughing on for a few years (on and off) and should have draft #1 finished in a few months.

    Although I've always known broadly what is going on in my book, filling in the gaps is a whole other exercise, and sometimes just sitting down and writing is all you can do. I have found that I tend to want to put off writing a chapter if I cant think what happens after it, but things usually just fall into place while I'm writing and then if I was stuck on the next bit it all comes together anyway.

    I'm not a published writer and whether thats any help I dont know, but its what Ive found.
     
  12. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    Maybe some of us should end each post with a warning:

    " As I have not been published, this opinion may or may not be of any benefit to you, so please read and follow at your own risk":):)

    Hetty



     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @Tim_Ashe - Welcome to the forum. You will find a mix of characters, here, some of whom know a great deal more than others. I, personally, have a private list of about a dozen regulars whom I count on for advice, and perhaps a dozen or so that I consider friends (the two overlap). Several are published writers, but most are still aspiring. Among the aspiring ones, there are many who have clearly studied the craft of writing and of literature, generally, with great care. My advice is to regard this forum as a study group. We are all learning together. Perhaps the published writers are participating faculty, but remember that no one knows everything (that would take the mystery out of life).

    Now, regarding your post: there is a difference between the flow of events that you are pulling into a story and the story you want the reader to read. You have to know the former in order to accomplish the latter. Maybe you have to write it down, first, either as prose or as an outline. I sometimes write out the story line first in prose, then go back and rewrite it in the way I want to tell it, a way that engages the reader. In my current project, I have already gone back and rewritten a chapter because I had focused on events instead of writing the story I want the reader to read, and I'm currently rewriting my first chapter because I realized it was too much backstory and didn't get the reader into the characters quickly enough.

    If this is your first attempt at a novel - and it sounds like it is - I would sketch out the story idea. Then, before starting to actually write the story, go back and look at some renowned novels that really resonated with you. It doesn't matter if the stories are different from yours. Focus on what the writers did, how they told their stories. Might some of those ideas work for you?

    Best of luck.
     
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  14. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I'm on novel #2, and am learning as I go. Here are some things I've decided work for me. "Your mileage may vary".

    1) I do an outline/timeline of my story. With this I know where my story is going, and where it needs to end up. I may write a few sentences describing key scenes that I really want to have. 1a) I do not allow myself to go and write the 'juicy' scenes out of order. I know if I do that, the more mundane scenes will become drudgery, and I'll never finish the damn thing. However, the timeling or scene notes get my ideas down in a manner so I won't forget what I need to depict or the 'feeling' I'm trying to instill at that moment.

    2) I always start at the beginning. Where, exactly, that is of course is project dependent, but it should be a scene that will grab the reader within a few sentences or a paragraph and make them subconsciously want to continue on. I actually don't find this to be as difficult as I first thought.

    3) I do fairly extensive character outlines detailing a lot of their background. A lot of the information doesn't get used in the actual story, but it helps me build familiarity with the character(s) and also makes it easy not to forget things as I progress (Now what was the color of her eyes?). Nothing sucks as much as having to scan through half your book looking for a detail you don't want to be wrong about later on in your writing.

    4) With the outline as my guide, I just let the story and characters take me where they will. If it screws up my pre-planned outline, so be it. Some changes are better; some are not. It's important to keep an open mind and never become too married to a particular idea or scene so much that you try to force it into a place where it doesn't belong.

    5) I've also had to create 'reverse' timelines to work backward from the final scene. Sometimes looking at it that way is the only way to get the pieces to fit together.

    I've probably got more, but I'm being called for lunch. :)
     
  15. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Can you describe that idea in two to four sentences?

    Here are examples of what I mean by describing a book idea rather than summarizing its plot:

    Absolute Power, David Baldacci: In a heavily guarded mansion in a posh Virginia suburb, a man and a woman start to make love, trapping Luther Whitney, a career break-in artist, behind a secret wall. Then the passion turns deadly, and Luther is running into the night. Because what he has just seen is a brutal murder involving Alan Richmond, the president of the United States, the man with...Absolute Power. (Summary on Amazon.com)

    Moby Dick, Herman Melville: This classic story by Herman Melville revolves around Captain Ahab and his obsession with a huge whale, Moby Dick. The whale caused the loss of Ahab's leg years before, leaving Ahab to stomp the boards of his ship on a peg leg. Ahab is so crazed by his desire to kill the whale, that he is prepared to sacrifice everything, including his life, the lives of his crew members, and even his ship to find and destroy his nemesis, Moby Dick. (Summarized by E.W. DesMarais)

    From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming: Every major foreign government organization has a file on British secret agent James Bond. Now, Russia's lethal SMERSH organization has targeted him for elimination. SMERSH has the perfect bait in the irresistible Tatiana Romanova, who lures 007 to Istanbul promising the top-secret Spektor cipher machine. But when Bond walks willingly into the trap, a game of cross and double-cross ensues, with Bond both the stakes and the prize. (Amazon)

    At this point, how close can you come to describing your idea this briefly? Give it a go and let's see what you have so far.
     
  16. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    Ding Ding! This, a hundred times this. (Not to be rude but dang you write a lot!)

    Writing is a process, before you can write anything you need to know what a plot is, what a character is, what makes the story flow. What attracts the readers? What is the purpose of this story? You may have a great idea of what the story is. Each line of dialogue is important, not a throw away line.

    You have to breathe life into the characters give them a backbone, give them this attractiveness by making them(the characters) human, you can accomplish this by watching people, how they react. How they do things, how they go about their daily life.

    You can see this video games, like Spec Ops: The Line using each character to its fullest and making it human in impossible circumstances.

    Scenes are extremely important to any book. If you do not have a proper grasp of how they work, then read! Reading is the biggest part to a writer, in order to be able to have a proper grasp of writing fiction or nonfiction you need to understand it from the pros, like The Hero of a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, Any Story by Edgar Allan Poe, Anything by the master of Dialogue Ernest Hemingway, and J.R.R. Tolkien for one reason, because of his archetype usage and creation. If you read and learn from these masters what to do for writing you story, then you will have a very good understanding of how to write your story.

    Use everything to the best of your ability.

    Also an abstract if you will; you need a main point for the story: what is that this character learns, what is that we learn as a writer from this story?

    Anyway, goodluck, keep reading and have fun!


    Also having written a lot of stories I usually start writing a main idea of what I want to talk about in my story, abortion, rape, etc.

    Once I get the general idea of what I am going to write about I start writing ideas for characters, put some research in.

    Notice I do not actually start writing the story until I know a sizable amount of information about the subject matter as I want to do as much justice to the subject as I possibly can.

    Then once that gets done. I start to write.... the characters and plot. The characters and the plot go hand in hand, sometimes the plot comes first, sometimes the characters, really depends on what you are making the story about.. Characters make the stories and sometimes the plots make the stories. (hence why I recommend the Hero of a Thousand Faces.) This is where a multitudes of resources go out and us Personality tests to figure out what the character is like, but please remember these are just broad strokes and cannot just be used by themselves. You need to flesh them out, personally I have no idea what happens at this stage because I really don't need to do anything as they just come out naturally and the character becomes part of the story.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2014
  17. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    "1a) I do not allow myself to go and write the 'juicy' scenes out of order. I know if I do that, the more mundane scenes will become drudgery, and I'll never finish the damn thing."
    I think that's where I went wrong...
    Ah well, live and learn....
    Thanks for you post. Makes a lot of sense.
    Hetty
     
  18. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    You know, actually, I think that the best thing that a writer can do for his-/herself and the story that is being written, is to stop writing for the reader.

    NOW BEFORE I GET A CRAPSTORM ABOUT COMMERCIAL WRITING AND HOW I'LL NEVER SELL A BOOK!

    I've discussed this before, in another thread, and I stand by it. I do not mean that there should be utter disregard for the intended audience of a book. I think it's foolish, if you hope to sell your books (even if only to a small number of people in the hopes that they will enjoy it) to not consider your intended audience. Downright foolish.

    However, I think, in many, many cases (and certainly many of my own) we, as writers, spend too much of our time worrying about what the "readers" will think. "How will readers react to finding out that my MC is gay?" "Is this opening enticing enough to draw a reader in?" "If I kill this character off, will the readers chuck the book across the room and never pick it up again?"

    (Arguably), your first step as a writer (assuming you've already got your story in mind, and have as much of planning as you are comfortable with having before embarking), should be the write. Turn off the inner editor. Turn off the inner critic. Turn off the inner reader. WRITE YOUR DANG STORY!

    Now, I'm guilty of this, too. My most recent post in the forums is asking whether or not "the readers" (those imaginary people that don't actually EXIST yet) would be turned off by my opening with a description, rather than with action, dialogue, or what have you.

    But wouldn't the life of a writer be a million times easier if we just...wrote first, and asked questions later?

    Write for yourself. Edit for your readers.
     
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  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    There is another reason. When you go back after writing ahead, when you reach the later part in the story, you may find your characters have changed ever so slightly, and the part you skipped ahead to write no longer quite fits them. That's because characters undergo subtle changes as we develop the story and new ideas occur to us. Sometimes, a writer will hit an impasse and feel the only way to get around it is to skip ahead and come back later. But when you do, this is the problem you have. Still, sometimes it's worth it if you're really stuck.
     
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  20. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    Ed makes an excellent point. As I've written my stories, there have been subtle changes that I did not anticipate, and it would be quite troublesome to try to go back and change things. Or, as I write sequentially sometimes the story will jet off in a previously un-imagined direction.

    I do not write for an audience, or a mythical reader. I write how I feel the story needs to be told. My first novel was decidedly 'PG' in content, while the current project is a very racy 'R' rated journey with frequent profanity and explicit sex scenes. If I were catering to a 'market', I'd probably filter the racy content harshly, but I don't think it would be true to the story I'm trying to tell. It will be what it needs to be, critics/publishers/readers be damned.

    However, I will stand by my assertion that a healthy 'hook' is more than just catering to the reader; I feel it is simply good writing etiquette.
     
  21. Fizpok
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    It really depends on WHAT is it you want to create. If you want a script for the next Hollywood's blockbuster, you cannot start with 10-pages philosophy discussion. This is "function affects the form" rule.
    Then, people did a lot of work for you. Already. Take books you like, and forget about the content - look for the structure. I know it is kind of hard, but if you do it, you might discover that Sherlok Holmes stories always begin in their flat at Baker street, no mater what. And Rex Stout's stories always (well, almost) begin with "we need money because of the boss being lazy". And Harry Potter always begins in the small room under the stairs... just kidding :)
    But really, get a habit of noticing what other writers do in typical situations, and don't hesitate to reuse techniques you like.
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I happen to think this is the most important thing writers can do to improve their writing. This goes beyond structure. It goes to the means of telling the story, framing the characters, developing conflicts, working in backstory and description...you name it. How does the author engage the reader, pulling him/her in and keeping him/her involved with the character?

    I would also note that if your goal is publishable fiction, you really can't start with 10 pages of philosophy discussion under any circumstances.

    Welcome to the forum, @Fizpok.
     
  23. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey Tim! Many great advice from other members above. I was just startled by this thing you said and the little discussion in produced:
    I think this is 100% true - the story (the narrative, if you like) should flow organically. The actual writing process is never-ever going to be a smooth ride.

    There may be times when your creative energy will seem to burst out of you, as the result of the intuitive artistic process - this is probably the most important thing you will experience while working on your story. You may call it inspiration or the "touch of the Muse", but the intensity of emotions, self-fulfilment, positive "feedback" that such moments will give you are priceless. It may give you just the right push in the right direction. Or give your story that little, important twist, or induce energy that'll touch your readers and make the whole story shine.

    Then, there is the rest 98% of creative process - be prepared for back pains, red eyes, hemorrhoids etc. Tables, plans, diagrams, hours and hours and hours of typing and typing and hiting the delete button over and over again. Yeah, that's fun. But don't let it discourage you: think of all the money you'll earn, all the pretty woman you'll date, all the fast cars... :)

    As for the starting point: I'll recommend the old-fashioned "start from page 1, paragraph 1". Anyone telling you to start from page 132, mid-paragraph 6 - well, how does that sound to you? :)
     
  24. Inkwell1
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    Inkwell1 Active Member

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    What you are writing about is a huge part of how to start it.
    If it is about a wicked witch who enchants everyone in her presence, you could say "All heads turned towards her; even though she should be the most detested creature to meander the Earth, everyone adored her."
    Of course, if you were writing about a boy who had a phenomenal life, but everything was about to change because of a girl, you could say "It seemed that nothing ever went wrong for ___, that his life was perfect. But alas, when he met (name for girl), his world was modified to chaos."
    You really have to make it detailed and interesting, and use words that cogently describes the setting and the mood.
     
  25. Bartleby9
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    Bartleby9 Member

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    You may have a good idea for a novel, but you need to know how to write to make that idea work. Remember, that writing is a craft that you have to work on. There are no instant geniuses. No one rolls out of bed and writes a masterpiece. To be honest, I don't think ideas are that important. Most stories have been told. There are twelve common archetypes that you will find from Shakespeare to post-modern literature. What's important is how well you write. However, it does depend on the genre. If you're writing a thriller or fantasy then the idea is more important than the writing. But,you still need to know how to write. You still have to learn the craft. And that isn't going to come from ideas. That's going to come from practice and writing. A lot of writing.

    So far you are saying that you have your idea but you can't put it to paper. Why not just put that idea to the side for now and work on the craft instead? Start writing short stories. Start doing writing exercises. Learn how to blend narration with dialogue. Learn how and when to use exposition. If you have trouble starting just stick with the mundane. Writing a short story about two old guys sitting on a bar stool talking about the glory days. It could be anything.
     

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