Do You Ever Not Know How to Start your Story?

Discussion in 'Articles' started by A.M.P., Nov 22, 2014.

By A.M.P. on Nov 22, 2014 at 2:27 AM
  1. A.M.P.

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Contributor

    Sep 30, 2013
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    A Place with no History

    Do You Ever Not Know How to Start your Story?

    Discussion in 'Articles' started by A.M.P., Nov 22, 2014.

    Fiction writing is great, many of us are here to create fantastical worlds with colorful characters in hopes others will get lost in them just as we do when we read our favorite books.

    However, sometimes, it's hard to start or know what to say or not say or when to say. We create imaginative worlds with complex magic systems, Victorian-esque customs, philosophical government ideals, or any number of things that require explanation.

    In this month alone, I read countless new threads of new and experienced writers wondering "Where do I start my story?" or "Is my beginning good?" and even "How do I let readers know how my magic/government system works?". If you've ever asked yourself any of these questions and still struggle with it, I have two pieces of advice.

    I - Start as close to the inciting (What sets off the intrigue or action) incident. 8 times out of 10, this is the best place to begin a story as a reader will not need a lengthy explanation of their day, how they got there, or anything of the sort. Get the ball rolling, so to speak.

    II - Exposition is plain and simply not the optimum way to start your story. Your reader just picked up their book, most likely for entertainment purposes, and suddenly they're learning about the geography, monarchic history of the kingdom, and a bunch of wars that already ended. That's not what a reader is looking for at the very first sentence.

    This all ties in to the question YOU ask yourself when you pick up a book:

    "What is this about?"

    Sounds familiar right? How many times have you picked up a book and asked yourself that as you open up to the first page and see if this book interests you? Probably every time.

    There is a simple rule of thumb that's used in multiple disciplines, including in writing:

    Who is in this scene?
    What is happening?
    Where is this happening
    Why is this happening?
    When is this happening?

    Also known as the 5 Ws, this is key information that a reader needs to formulate the imagery necessary to get hooked into your story. No, you do not need to reveal everything in paragraph one but if in two pages most of these questions are not answered, your reader might not be able to sink himself into the book.

    Keeping this in mind; as a reader and not a writer, if you open a book and are bombarded with exposition information that means zip to you, will it answer "What is this about?" or will it just leave just as many if not more questions?

    So this is what it comes down to: if you ever wonder how to start, where to start, or what to reveal, think of the five W's and whether the questions "What is this about" is answered.


Discussion in 'Articles' started by A.M.P., Nov 22, 2014.

    1. Hubardo
      In something I'm writing now, the whole short story is a kind of psychological exploration and partial-revelation (up to interpretation, somewhat) addressing the "why" part. I like that about it, although I suspect some readers might find the ambiguity to be frustrating.
    2. Sophie Leo
      Sophie Leo
      Your ideas are really amazing and useful. As a writer, I will try for my writing activities.
    3. Tenderiser
      Zombie thread, but an interesting one.

      I started my first novel way too early and ending up shaving the three original first chapters off.

      I started the second too late and had to add 1,500 words or so to the beginning.

      Maybe Goldilocks will get it just right next time!
      zoupskim likes this.
    4. Sack-a-Doo!
      I mull story ideas over for years before I find the right way in, the best place to start or even the best climactic scene. One story idea I had back in 2008 or so (working title: e=MagiC2 [which makes far more sense when the 'agi' are subscripted and the '2' is superscripted]) didn't reveal its MC for over two years and I'm still humming and hawing over the plot even though the climactic scene fell into my lap last year. It's still on the back burner for now.

      I just feel lucky to be the recipient of a lot of ideas I really wanna pursue.
    5. Cave Troll
      Cave Troll
      I was under the impression that is the point of a synopsis to tell you what the story is about. If you can tell what it is about in 5 words then your story is not going to be much fun to read, and probably way too simplistic. At least give yourself a few paragraphs or a whole page. Then again if you need to hook them in the first five words, then you are a step above grand master of story telling. And therefore don't need to ponder such things. Though I have never read anything that summed up the plot in 5 words right at the very start. Your story should unfold the way you want it too, and if you can do it with less , then great. I will stick to trying to write something that is at least passable as a tale worth reading, at least I try and fail to do so. :supergrin:

      Well good luck with the whole 5 words thing, I must be off to write more things of words awkwardly spliced together.:superlaugh:
    6. A.M.P.
      Yeah, I think I redid the first 3-4 chapters of WotW like... 5 times.
      And even then the characters changed quite a few times.
      I had ideas but it only came all together really when I saw it in white and black.

      I think WotW I spent nearly 2 years day dreaming about and #savegoatbro2015 about half a year.
      Ideas are cool but it takes me a while to give them any real substance and to figure out the whole world building.
      I want to have lots of finished manuscripts so I don't have to have a dayjob for the rest of my life so I'm trying to pick up the pace with writing/imagining.

      @Cave Troll
      You don't use the five Ws right away. That'd be a very boring info dump.
      They're a basic guideline for people who try to write chapter one but don't realize most readers will lose interest if they have no idea what's going on.
      If you opened a book in a store to read the first two pages and at the end you didn't know the setting, any character, what's happening, or anything else you'd probably put it down, right?
      You'd have no mental imagery (no where), you'd have no one to relate to and think about (who) and probably end up reading a very bland exposition of world building or some war that happened 1000 years ago that doesn't matter to the story so far.
      The whole point is to ground the reader, give them good imagery, and have them hooked.

      I'm not saying "you must name your character" for the Who. He can be "shadow figure #1" in a Where that is "cold and damp, too dark to see your own hands". You just have to be able to present it in a way that intrigues and creates enough strong and consistent imagery for the reader to get interested in finding out more.
    7. DeadMoon
      I think I know how I want my story. I just need to get over that fact that I am typing on a computer and not chiseling it in a piece of stone.
      Dearest Mothership likes this.
    8. A.M.P.
      Honestly? Rewriting is exhausting, adding new chapters/characters require lots of work to keep in consistent.
      And the edits are endless.

      It's not too surprising most shirk at the idea of actually even starting the project.

      But it's a labor of love.
      Dearest Mothership likes this.
    9. Amy Brahams
      Amy Brahams
      Wow!! Thankx for guiding
    10. NoGoodNobu
      I think exposition is important, but I think we've all lost what it really is. It isn't limited to long pages of paragraphs of minuscule details of backstory--exposition is also short snippets of dialogue or descriptions strung together that set the stage, inform the audience, and feed into the action & intrigue.

      You just have play around with introducing the information in a natural & engaging way. And it's important to play to your audience. Of course a lot of people dislike history lectures, but if you happen to be a fan of the Poetic Edda then The Silmarillion is probably right up your alley! But if you're aiming at an audience who prefer young adult post-apocalyptic fiction, maybe skip inserts of Biblical length genealogies.

      But I do struggle occasionally with when & how to start a story. I try to figure out what information needs to be presented, and then play around with what the best form of presentation of this information according to the genre & audience & my personal style. It can be tough, and sometimes it can flow effortlessly.
    11. halisme
      I know how to start and have a rough idea how to end, it's the bits in the middle that cause the issue.
    12. jannert
      I never know where the story should start. I just begin. When it's finished, I see where I should have started, and adjust accordingly.

      The start of a story launches the reader in the right direction. Until you're finished, you won't know exactly what that direction will be. I'd say don't stress over beginnings. Just start writing, wherever you want. There is a difference!

      Craft the perfect beginning later. Work hard to get it perfect ...the right sentences, the right tone, the right amount of intrigue to get the reader to want to read it. But don't stress if the perfect beginning isn't the first thing you write. Writing in chronological order isn't something you need to do.
    13. Lew
      The first draft of the first chapter is for you the writer, and your readers will probably never see it. It sets YOUR mind as to where you are and who some of your characters are. Get it down on paper and keep going to you get the end, then revise it. Your first chapter will probably wind up completely different... mine did
    14. Robert Musil
      Robert Musil
      I think my problem is that I always know how to begin, and always get too enamored of my beginnings to want to go back and change them. Probably a side effect of my being better at coming up with premises than actually writing anything.
    15. A.M.P.
      I'm the exact opposite.
      I love endings and big emotional climaxes but it's the creating the series of events leading to that that are hard for me.

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