1. Nicolle Evans
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    Nicolle Evans Member

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    Writing a beginning

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Nicolle Evans, May 3, 2016.

    Beginning's are hard!


    I have written just above 20 beginnings for the same story that I have been working on since 2011 and I STILL don't know which to use and none of them feel just right.

    At what point should a beginning be left behind to continue the rest of the story? (I feel like I've got so caught up on the beginning that the rest of the story is being neglected despite me knowing how the story will go, and end.)

    How do you deal with the beginning of a story?

    Also your first sentence: is that truly something I should get so het up over (I have racked up quite a few hours of hetting up about this!)
     
  2. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    Where possible, the best way to start is with a scene that begins the main plot, shows what the conflict will be, and hooks the reader so they want to see how the conflict will be resolved. However, there are a lot of cases where you can't do that: if the main plot requires explanation and exposition to make sense, if you have to demonstrate the MC's personality in a way that can't be done in the first plot-relevant scene, if the main plot starts off so fast-paced that the reader will be thrown for a loop . . . In those cases, I start off with a scene that demonstrates the MC's personality and gives some idea of how they behave when faced with a conflict. Because I'm good at writing characters, I find that character-building scenes can function as my "hooks" and create initial interest in place of a plot-starting scene. (If you have another talent, like creating interesting settings readers will want to see more of, you may be able to use that as your hook instead.)
     
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  3. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Immediately. Write a beginning (any old shit will do), then plough through to the end of the first draft. Then go back and edit. Not doing this is a good way to never finish anything.

    As above.

    Good luck!
    :)
     
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  4. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    I am just a beginner as well so I am giving beginners advice here. Do you have other parts of your story worked out besides the beginning yet? If you do not, I will give my two cents.

    So far what I do, is I decide what the intended pay off of the 'inciting event' to be, before coming up with the inciting event.

    I write screenplays, and watch a lot of movies, so I will use a movie as a example. Have you seen Dial M For Murder (1954)?

    In that movie, the main character plots out murdering his wife. The murder happens almost halfway through the movie as well as the pay off for it. So since that is the main premise that the rest of the story comes out of, that part perhaps should be decided first, and not the 'beginning' first.

    I 'm going to call this the 'premise event'. The inciting event, is an actual fiction writing term in many circles, but I will call the other, the premise event.

    So once you have your premise event, try to come up with a way to build into that, that makes sense for the characters' actions, if that makes sense. The character wants the premise event to be his/her goal, so that's what you start off with first, is the goal, but also how the goal will be accomplishment, or how it will fail, if you want it too, like in Dial M for Murder. Most premise event goals fail in fiction though, and a new goal emerges after, as a consequence of the failed, first one.

    In Dial M for Murder, the murder fails and than after, new goals arise and follow.

    When plotting out a story like that though, it's probably best to come up with the villain's murder goal first, then come up with a reason for why he/she is doing it after. The reason will then help write how to get away with the goal.

    As for starting off with a character driven hook, or a plot driven one, it seems that a lot of people are 50/50 on this, unless I am wrong?
     
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  5. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe the beginning should say one thing...

    "Hey you! This book is about this! Pay attention!"

    Clear and Present Danger begins with a realistic depiction of coast guard boarding operations and the murder of a family. Instantly, you know that the book is about military men and their craft, and the danger of a drug cartel willing to attack Americans.

    Dune begins with a powerful warrior monk testing a person for discipline and humanity. Instantly, we know the book is about human limitations, and what we have sacrifice to overcome them.
     
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  6. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Really whatever works best. Introduce a character. Introduce a plot point. Introduce background. Some combination there of. Whatever. As long as it leads into the story your making in an effective way, makes a fairly representative impression of the general feel, and is of course entertaining and clever and all that.
     
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  7. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Move on and finish a first draft. Everything will end up changing when you go back to edit anyway. Once you get a draft done you will find new things that you've put in later in the story that you will want to refer to back in the beginning.
     
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  8. tumblingdice
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    tumblingdice Member

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    One technique I use is avoiding infodumps, that is, don't reveal everything right away. Keep the reader intrigued, figuring out what's going on as your initial paragraphs unfold.

    IMO the first sentence is not really that important. It's nice, of course, to have a first sentence where the reader goes, "whoa! that's good!" but it's not necessary for a story to be enjoyable. I've never met anybody who stopped reading because they weren't hooked in by the first sentence :p
     
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  9. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    The hardest sentence to write in your WIP is the first one. The second hardest sentence is the last one.

    The first draft of your story is for you, the writer, that introduces the setting and some of the characters. Go on from what you got down, keep moving, get to the end, then rewrite the beginning when you have better grasp of your characters, plot and setting. Most first chapters never see the light of day, and shouldn't, but they are important to the writer as the essential backstory.
     
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  10. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I'll offer you hope in a second. First, just write your beginning and then go on from there.

    The hope part: the first book I wrote I wound up chopping off the entire first chapter when I began editing. While it seemed like the logical beginning point I knew in reading the entire book the first time it was unnecessary. Chapter two was where I should have begun. I axed chapter one. That will hurt sometimes because you might like some of what was in it. Tough shit. Amputate it like a bad limb. :)

    The point is that none of those beginning drafts may be what you need. Just write and worry about it later. Nothing needs be permanent; that is what revisions are for.
     
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  11. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never really find the beginning until at least the second or third draft. Not to say I don't know where the story starts, but that I don't find the right words and the right approach to presenting the beginning until then.

    My advice? Write an entire draft, then go back and think about (and rewrite) the beginning. The ending (and the middle bits) will bring in so many things you'll have to think about to get the beginning juuuuust right that it may be foolhardy to nail down your opening before you're written the rest.

    Bottom line: don't worry about it until you're on your second (at least) draft.
     
  12. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    My WIP first chapter written 2o years ago was a "flash forward" that involved two Roman soldiers, no names, having a training sword bout in what was apparently a Chinese martial arts gymnasium. This included a humorous point in which the lithe athletic one backs up and trips over a pisspot, but wins anyway because the other, stronger one became overconfident. Then the two go off to a Chinese bath, talking about what a strange culture they were in. It was basically where I started my thought process... just what WOULD Romans think of Han China?

    This introduced two of my MCs: One of the two was lithe and athletic, well spoken, senior in rank, the other powerfully strong and crudely spoken, rendered with a cockney accent to capture his fractured Latin. I then went back to the beginning of their trip in chapter 2 where one of the two, a senior officer, is chosen by his legion commander to detach for this important diplomatic mission, and he in turn choses the other soldier to accompany him, a senior centurion. Now my two got names, Gaius Lucullus, senior tribune of the 12th Fulminata, and Antonius Aristides, the senior centurion of that legion, and a long-time soldiering companion of Gaius, with a lot of mutual respect and frank talk between the two. Lieutenant Colonel and senior Gunnery Sergeant. That chapter stayed, pretty much in its original form.

    The original chapter one focused my mind on what I thought would be my protagonist and the man he would have to rescue. Neither ended up as such (they both, plus a few others, needed rescuing), but the centurion changed a lot, and I think is more of a major character than the senior officer, who changes very little: good guy, strategic thinker, shrewd bargainer, but that is how he comes out at the end... perhaps a lot more devoted to his family after a three year sojourn where he thought he might never see them again.

    I rewrote the first chapter, discarding the original one, on the second draft, started three years ago when I dusted off the half-done first draft to edit and update before resuming work after a 13 year break. I needed to introduce some new things that I hadn't known about 20 years ago, the Gan Ying expedition (actual) to Rome in 97AD used as the trigger for this return mission (fictional), and the Roman soldiers who wound up in Liqian a century before, ancestors to the translators for both missions.

    The training sword fight stayed, though it was reused two thirds of the way through the book, with the centurion, as before, but the other was a Xiong Nu warrior woman in a nomad camp north of China. She also tripped over the pisspot, but won the fight because the centurion thought victory was his.

    Lesson learned... the first chapter focuses your thought, introduces YOU to your characters and situation, and just accept it as such. If you cut it out later go right ahead... but don't delete it or any other cut chapter, because you might want to repurpose those words somewhere else.

    BTW, Antonius' "voice" is still mostly the fractured semi-cockney that he used when he first introduced himself to me in 1995, "Beggin' yer pardon, sir, but yer like ter git yersel' kilt doin' that shit!"
     
  13. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    My five cents - hard won from critiques: Engage the reader. Learn about a personal problem your MC faces. Show them why they should care what happens to him, and ideally, about a choice he would have to make in the future :)
     

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