1. Published on Amazon? If you have a book, e-book, or audiobook available on Amazon.com, we'll promote it on WritingForums.org for free. Simply add your book to our Member Publications section. Add your book here or read the full announcement.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Dismiss Notice
  1. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 11, 2013
    Messages:
    2,892
    Likes Received:
    1,905
    Location:
    Virginia, United States

    Is it weird to start a novel this way?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lea`Brooks, Mar 10, 2015.

    I know that a novel needs to start with action. It should pick up right in the middle of the drama, to grab the readers attention. If it doesn't happen within the first three chapters, you risk losing your reader.

    Well, my drama doesn't start until chapter four. Because it NEEDS the backstory to make sense. I'm not saying my story is confusing -- it's actually the most simple plot I've ever come up with. Basically the story kicks off once my MC gets "changed" into a creature. But I can't just start the story off with the change, because I need to build a little on her relationship with the creature that changes her. Because the change is her choice, not an accident or a situation where she's dying and has to be changed to live.

    But it makes me worried that it happens so late. Basically, in chapter one, my MC is given an assignment which will bring her into contact with the creatures. In chapter two, she meets a creature. In chapter three, she interviews the creature. In chapter four, she convinces the creature to change her, and chapter five is her waking up after the change and really experiencing it.

    To remedy this, I thought of starting off with the change and her waking up from it. Then, in chapter two, I could go back to when she first met the creature and move forward to her change. That way I could start the book off immediately with the drama and still have the backstory. But would this be weird or off putting? Is there a better way to do this? Or should I just stick with what I have?


    Thanks!
     
  2. peachalulu

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,874
    Likes Received:
    2,440
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Could start with her meeting the creature.
     
  3. Talisien

    Talisien Member

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2015
    Messages:
    86
    Likes Received:
    52
    Location:
    N.Devon, UK
    It doesn't have to start of in the middle of the main drama. Is there another dramatic situation or conflict you could start with and then build to the main drama? Why is she given the assignment? Is there an event that could spark that off?
     
  4. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,697
    Likes Received:
    5,976
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    I've been remodeling my opening and my latest brainstorm is to make the world interesting with a bang, a very strange creature is in my MC's trap. Not strange to her, but setting the stage for being on a different planet.

    Tension builds that night and the action starts in the morning. When I started with the tension building, the critique group wasn't impressed. If I start with the next morning's action, you don't get the tension building. So I settled for intriguing setting.
     
  5. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 11, 2013
    Messages:
    2,892
    Likes Received:
    1,905
    Location:
    Virginia, United States
    It's the changing that sets off the events. The changing makes my MC sick and she has to get to a certain place in a certain amount of time or she dies.

    I don't really know why she has the assignment... She's in college. It's a class assignment. But really, it's just an excuse to get her to meet a creature, because she wouldn't have done so otherwise. I know I'm missing something here, but I haven't figured it out yet. The events leading up to the changing have been a struggle for me from day one.

    @GingerCoffee That's a very good idea. My world is "different" in the sense that there are a lot of mythological creatures walking around in major cities. So maybe I could just start with something like that. It could hook the reader right away, wondering why there's a police officer riding a unicorn or something....
     
  6. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    8,868
    Likes Received:
    8,556
    Location:
    Scotland
    @Lea`Brooks -
    Your story sounds perfectly fine, the way you've mapped it out. In fact, you've eliminated the need for flashbacks, which you would certainly have needed if you'd just plonked the reader into the middle of such a strange scenario.

    It's a mistake to assume you always have to start in the middle of 'action.' In fact, starting with action usually means there will need to be a quick drop in the action soon afterwards, to get everybody on board with who, what, where, when and why. There is nothing wrong with starting the story with what is 'normal' in your world. That way, when things change, there is a framework in place and the action will mean something.

    You don't need action to grab a reader's attention. What you need is something interesting, something unusual or insightful, something that makes the reader want to keep reading. Sounds to me like your story is fine, as it is. I would certainly be intrigued enough to read on.
     
    GingerCoffee likes this.
  7. Bryan Romer

    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2014
    Messages:
    891
    Likes Received:
    382
    Perhaps you can start with your MC seeing or hearing something ( a tabloid news article?) about creatures which she dismisses but leaves the reader with the thought that monsters might exist.
     
    jannert likes this.
  8. Jack Asher

    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2013
    Messages:
    3,571
    Likes Received:
    2,061
    Location:
    Denver
    Yes, absolutely do this! If I'm readying about at sci-fi gorillas in the mist/interview with a vampire, I want to know what I'm reading and why I'm reading it, on the first page. Once I get that payoff I'll stick around for the rest.

    But there are a lot of avenues other then "flashback" in order to tell the story. The transformed character might be keeping a journal of her transformation. She might be keeping records on what's happened to her, or she might be telling another of the creatures how it's happened to her.

    Get creative with the flashback, but don't think that a reader will tough out your book for four chapters of nothing happening.
     
    GingerCoffee likes this.
  9. Jhunter

    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2011
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    46
    Location:
    Southern California
    You can absolutely start your book with the "change." It doesn't have to answer all the questions; it doesn't even have to make complete sense. It just has to make the reader want to know how the MC ended up in that situation.
     
    Ivana likes this.
  10. drifter265

    drifter265 Banned

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2013
    Messages:
    175
    Likes Received:
    38
    So your MC changing into this creature is the initiation of the story? Then I don't see why it would be a bad idea for your story to start at chapter 4 then; use the earlier chapters, like you said, to set things up. You're doing fine, thinking of these ideas; just keep working on them and getting a draft going. You'll get there.
     
    jannert likes this.
  11. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    8,868
    Likes Received:
    8,556
    Location:
    Scotland
    No, the start of her story, as I understand it, is the MC getting the assignment to study the strange creatures. It's perfectly possible to make this a VERY interesting chapter.

    We're not starting with 'she was born and then she went to school, and her parents were very interesting people too.' What we're starting with is the moment of change for the MC. The change is this odd assignment she's just received.

    This is the moment to let us into her life, and let us understand what makes her tick. By the time we get to the character physically 'changing' we will know her very well and will be able to empathise with her emotions and thoughts. We will know why she wants to become a different creature, and maybe something about how the changes will affect her life. That's the way stories develop. I know some folks don't agree with me, but starting with a bang, in the middle of an action scene, often means a few whimpers later on.

    I'd say think about it as if you're unwrapping a gift. If somebody just hands you the object inside, it's not as much fun as taking the ribbon off, taking the wrapping off, opening the box....

    Think about WHY we wrap gifts? It's to create excitement and pique curiosity, isn't it? That's what you want to do in a book. Just make sure the object inside the package is worth the wait.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2015
    Lea`Brooks and minstrel like this.
  12. Amanda_Geisler

    Amanda_Geisler Contributing Member Reviewer

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2014
    Messages:
    320
    Likes Received:
    105
    Location:
    Australia
    Perhaps you could do a little bit of a prologue. It can have a part of/after the change that will capture reader attention. Then take it back in chapter one, that's when you give your back story. That way it gives you your lure for your readers, but it's still slightly disconnected from the story.
     
    Ivana likes this.
  13. 123456789

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,981
    Likes Received:
    3,630
    OK I never really understood this debate. I think she could start at ANY time. She could start as a child if she wanted her to. Mervyn Peake starts with Titus as a child in Gormenghast. Once and Future King starts with Arthur as a child. She could start at the assignment. She could start as she changes into the creature. Where she starts will have large effects on the novel. I think the further back she starts, the more of an "epic feel," the novel will have. The closer she gets to the point of changing, the "crisis," the more suspenseful the novel will feel. Readers can work. It's not like we need to see the relationship with the creature before she turns into one. We can infer their relationship from how things occur later on. It really depends what and how the OP wants to focus on. If the decision itself and what it says about the MC is a big deal, I would suggest starting before the decision. It also depends on how much the OP has going on after the transformation.


    It's like going for a swim. You can stretch, put on sun screen, lay down on the sand for forty minutes to warm up your body, then go, inch by inch into the water, or you tear of your clothes and jump right in as soon as you get there. They're both valid experiences. I certainly don't think any particular type of beginning has to bore the reader. But it will bear impact on the rest of the story.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2015
  14. drifter265

    drifter265 Banned

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2013
    Messages:
    175
    Likes Received:
    38
    Lonesome Dove didn't start its journey through Texas on the first chapter; it had nearly 100,000 words for part 1 before it started the cattle drive. A previous poster was right; you could start at any time.
     
    jannert likes this.
  15. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    8,868
    Likes Received:
    8,556
    Location:
    Scotland
    Oh, I agree with you, the story can start anywhere. But unfortunately many new writers get told that a story has to start with ACTION or it's boring and won't interest a reader. I think that's the question the OP was wondering about, as evidenced by her opening sentence in this thread. Maybe I got that wrong, but that's the way I addressed my answer.

    I guess my point (and probably yours as well) is there is no 'stock' way a story must begin. It does need to grab the reader's interest, but there are many ways to do that.

    I feel there is a danger inherent in all approaches, though. The danger to the 'action' start is twofold. One—you risk losing the interest of the reader once the action drops off. And two—you risk starting the story too soon, with essentially meaningless action happening to characters we don't care about yet. That, too, can lead to reader disengagement. Nothing puts me off faster than starting with a bunch of characters I don't know doing a bunch of things I don't understand. I personally prefer the 'slow start,' so when the action comes it actually means something to me.
     
    GingerCoffee and minstrel like this.
  16. 123456789

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,981
    Likes Received:
    3,630
    You're looking at it in terms of a cost/benefit perspective, which is fair, but I tend to look at it more from the vantage point of the particular novel. A claustrophobic novel might want to start right at the trouble. A shoot first, ask questions later POV might want to start right at the trouble. A novel, like yours, that has multiple main characters and a rich historical setting, probably wants to start slow.

    If we are looking at cost/benefits, I'd say the main reason for starting at the problem is that you get to be pumped up. There's no hike up to the cliff. You just jump. I'll admit I prefer starting with a bang :-D
     
    jannert likes this.
  17. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    8,868
    Likes Received:
    8,556
    Location:
    Scotland
    Fair enough. You take the stance that it's okay to start from any perspective, provided you write it well, and I'm fine with that.

    You prefer to jump into cold water? Yeah, I think I prefer the slow immersion torture...although I've been known to just jump in too, when I know the water isn't cold enough for the shock to kill me. (I grew up beside the Great Lakes, so I know whereof I speak...!) :)
     
  18. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,982
    Likes Received:
    1,679
    There's your trouble.

    Come up with some COMPELLING reason why she has the assignment. Why it's her. Why it has to be done. Probably, she just gets told to do it but "mysterious forces" are at work in the background.

    It's not conflict, but it is intrigue.
     
  19. plothog

    plothog Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2013
    Messages:
    654
    Likes Received:
    531
    Location:
    England
    While I agree it's important to get drama in before chapter 4, that drama can be a good deal subtler than being turned into another creature.
    Drama and action aren't synonyms.
    For example, it sounds to me like this creature is something unusual that your character hasn't met before? If so the scene of them meeting should be possible to write dramatically. You mostly need to show your character's fear or excitement or confusion at such an unusual encounter.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2015
    jannert likes this.
  20. Ivana

    Ivana Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2015
    Messages:
    255
    Likes Received:
    126
    Location:
    Far side of Unatsu
    I was thinking the same thing as Amanda_Geisler - start with a short prologue where you could capture your reader's attention first. Your MC waking up as a creature would be a good start, and then you could develop your story while steadily getting to the point where she actually turns. Your reader will definitely be curious and anticipating the resolution of the prologue.
     
  21. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    7,330
    Likes Received:
    7,040
    I'm with Shadowfax - three chapters of someone doing something for no particular reason is no way to start a book.

    I think you should either start later, or find ways to make the first bits compelling. Maybe she's flunking out (for reasons) and is given this assignment as an opportunity to prove she belongs in the program (cliched, but cliches develop for a reason), and you can give us a bit about her so we care about her when the transformation occurs and understand why she let herself fall into dangerous circumstances.

    Alternatively, start with the transformation, and don't worry about flashing back or anything else. It sounds like maybe you've taken the "show, don't tell" advice a bit too far - you should only "show" readers the stuff that's really important and interesting. If something isn't important, that's the prime time for a little "telling". You could give us her reasons for going to the interview in about two sentences, probably. No need for three chapters.
     
  22. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 11, 2013
    Messages:
    2,892
    Likes Received:
    1,905
    Location:
    Virginia, United States
    I guess I do know why I want the assignment.. But it seems like kind of an info-dump now that I look at it.

    My MC Giselle is the daughter of the governor of Oregon. (Used to be Colorado, but I changed it to Oregon last night. :p) Creatures of myth (vampires, werewolves, unicorns, fairies, etc) are all real and have come out of hiding to live among the humans. They want equal rights and jobs and basically a chance to live normally. But Giselle's dad is all, "Hell, no, they're monsters." But Giselle disagrees -- she's very sympathetic and feels for them, but only her best friend knows how she feels.

    I wanted to give her the assignment to kind of show who she is. She's a normal girl, in college. She's in an "anthropology" class, in which she's given an assignment to research the creatures and decide whether they deserve equal rights or not. So Giselle is torn. She thinks they do, but she knows if she says that, it'll get back to her father, which could seriously hurt his career. So does she say yes or no?

    So she's at a coffee house in the city with her friend, talking about the assignment, trying to figure out what she's going to do. Shortly after, there's a confrontation at the checkout counter. The cashier is refusing service to a creature (though to Giselle, he doesn't look like a creature -- he looks normal!) The creature storms out angry, then stops to make a phone call on the sidewalk. Giselle's friend says that this is the perfect opportunity to start her assignment -- go interview him! So Giselle runs outside and introduces herself to him, eventually convincing him to get breakfast. They go to a diner, Giselle eats things for breakfast that she's never had before (her dad is really strict about what they eat), and her and the creature (a modernized golem to be exact) get to know each other.

    Somehow, Giselle is able to convince the creature to change her. I'm not sure how yet. The creature is supposed to be really resistant to changing her willingly, and Giselle is too passive to force the issue. But I think giving the creature a more "whatever, do what you want" attitude could fix this issue.

    Anyway. That was my plan. From there, I know exactly where I'm going. Giselle didn't change the way she was supposed to. She's dying, but the golem who changed her doesn't want to tell her and scare her. Instead, he just makes it his mission to get her where she needs to be before she dies. All the while, though, Giselle's father called the police and said the creature kidnapped her. So they're trying to hide from the cops, because if they get caught, the creature will go to jail and Giselle won't make it to be healed and will die.

    The rest of the story, I'm good. But I just didn't know if my beginning was too slow. I've been struggling with it for a long time. This is the third intro I've come up with, and it's definitely better than the first two.


    Thanks for all your help, all. :) I have a lot to think about.
     
    jannert likes this.
  23. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,982
    Likes Received:
    1,679
    So creatures of myth have "come out" in the gay sense of the word? And they're facing the same sort of prejudice? How would a gay feel, being interviewed so a straight person could decide whether he or she deserved equal rights?

    Would a gay really agree to "change" a straight? Would they really go, "yeah, whatever you want"? Surely they wouldn't want to do anything that might fuel the "you catch gayness from being near a gay" myth?
     
  24. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 11, 2013
    Messages:
    2,892
    Likes Received:
    1,905
    Location:
    Virginia, United States
    If you have a better alternative to interviews and willingly turning a human, I'm happy to hear it. :)
     
  25. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    8,868
    Likes Received:
    8,556
    Location:
    Scotland
    I think that's fine, actually. You've started with a conflict, between your MC and her father over an issue that concerns us in the real world as well as fantasy. How do we engage with people we see as 'others?' That's a good start. I think you're moving the story on in a very good way. If you start with the transformation, you'll either have to go back and explain all about how it came to be, or the background won't be there, and there will be no framework for the reader to engage with the story.

    I'm perfectly happy with what you've got, and the pace you're setting for the story developments. This gives you a place to go back to at the end of the story as well. Either she reconciles with her father or she doesn't. Either he changes his mind about 'monsters' when his daughter becomes one of the 'others', or he doesn't. That's a thread which will linger throughout the story and demand resolution. It's a good one. I'd say stick to your course and don't be sidetracked by all the 'shoulds and shouldn'ts' of writerly how-to advice. I think you have a good storytelling instinct. Just trust it, and you'll be okay.
     

Share This Page