1. bionerdwithaporpoise

    bionerdwithaporpoise New Member

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    Rules on beginning a story

    Discussion in 'Novels' started by bionerdwithaporpoise, Jan 10, 2017.

    I'm currently working on the first draft of my first novel project. I expect a lot will change, especially how I decide to begin the story. But I can't stop focusing on the fact that I don't yet have something that feels like a beginning. Basically, I just want to lie to myself about having a "real" beginning :D
    I've done a lot of research concerning this very topic, but I guess I just wanted some feedback for my specific situation.

    What I have now is my MC reflecting (I know, yikes) on how he killed someone a few years before his present age in the story. However, it's such an important part, literally and symbolically - in a Chekov's Gun kinda way, and pretty subtle but definitely something I think a reader would go back to analyze.

    Is this a terrible way to begin a novel? I'm thinking I can
    - wait to include it (where else I would put it, I don't know [yet]) and work to come up with something more fitting
    - have the event happen in the "present" (it's written in past tense)
    - keep it as is, but somehow ease the story into a few years passing, i.e., "three summers passed," or give a uick summary of events between then and now

    I hope this isn't too abstract, since I didn't include an entire outline of my story :'D
    Any help would be much appreciated.
     
  2. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    A/ Jim squeezed the trigger and watched as Toby's chest exploded in a red mist. He watched dispassionately, never stirring a hair, and wondered where was all the guilt that those talking heads on TV spoke about...

    B/ Jim sat on his bed and recalled the time when he'd shot Toby, still unsure why he'd never felt a thing about killing another human being...

    Pick one.

    Or, leave it for now, and feed in clues about it throughout. My preference, but with the proviso that you need to have SOME sort of early hook to get the reader to think that it's going to be worth reading.
     
  3. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    I think in the case of your story, give that first line some dark humor. He's thinking back on a murder, but in an uncomfortable lucid way, without an appropriate amount of regret.

    My favorite first line from the murder/mystery/detective genre...

    We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.
    - John D MacDonald, Darker Than Amber
     
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  4. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    There is only one solution to your problem if you don't want to waste time. Just keep writing.

    It sounds as if you've already started writing your first draft, so just keep going. Don't bother trying to craft a perfect beginning at this stage. Once you get done and know exactly what you've got, you'll have a much clearer idea of what your beginning should contain.

    Remember ...the beginning is your launch pad for the story. So once you know exactly what your story's destination is, you are better placed to launch it in the right direction. You can even include words or ideas that get echoed at the end. Most folks love that kind of story connectivity.

    Many famous authors claim they write their beginnings last. Of course some other writers claim they always have a perfect beginning in place when they start, but you're obviously not one of these folks. So don't sweat it. Just write.

    Whatever you do, don't lose sleep over this issue now. You'll end up wasting a lot of time. Just get the first draft written.
     
  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Hmm... I don't think I can agree with this, especially the "there is only one solution" part.

    Like practically every other damn thing about writing ever, this is going to depend on the individual author. For myself? It would be a huge waste of time to write an entire novel and then realize that I'd started it wrong, because whatever I write at the start will be echoed and referred to and built on throughout the whole rest of the book. So if I ended up going back and changing something at the start, I'd have to rewrite most of the rest of the book in order to address the shift.

    I'm not talking about an individual word choice or something, but for something like this? If the readers know that the MC has killed someone in the past and keeps thinking about it, then that's going to put a very different spin on subsequent writing than if the readers don't know the MC has killed someone in the past and keeps thinking about it.

    So, for many writers it will make sense to bash through the opening and keep going, with the understanding that it can all be worked out in rewrites. But for other writers it makes sense to sort things out as they go, minimizing rewrites and just getting things "right" from the start.

    OP - I don't think any of us can say what kind of writer you are. If you're pretty new to this you probably can't say what kind of writer you are. We also don't know what genre you're writing in (and therefore don't know genre expectations) or how well you'll be able to write an opening that isn't very action-y.

    So @jannert's advice may be perfect for you, or it may not work at all for you! (Not a flaw in the advice, just a recognition that there are infinite ways to write). It probably makes sense to experiment with her approach and see if it works for you... it certainly may!

    But if it doesn't? Try something else. There are lots of options.
     
  6. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

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    I agree with pretty much everyone on the topic that it's important for the reader to know that the MC is thinking about this killing. If the story starts there - truly - then that is a perfectly valid way to begin. If not you'd better start at the true beginning.

    But to feel satisfactory to me, the following events (to the introspection) should be tied in to the killing in some way, ie. the MC is lying in his bed, reflecting on the nature of loss and guilt, deciding that he is not brave enough to make a committment to love, and in consequence wakes up his girlfriend and tells her that he breaks up with her.

    So you decided that you want to begin at this point. Hint: Give the MC a physical object which symbolises this killing. Maybe a medaillon, or a fotograph, or even a piece of broken glass (which he found stuck in the sole of his left shoe after the killing and never got rid of). You can use this object to lighten up the narrative and tie the reader more firmly into the MC's body. Only introspection won't achieve that, but you want an immediate and as close as possible a tie from MC to reader.

    Good luck!
     
  7. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    I'm one of the "other" ones.
    I need to have things sorted out as I go, and at least presentable. I also find that it's a boost to my confidence having a chapter or two in the bag, ready for a professional editor. I can't imagine working on a 40,000-50,000 word novella, and having to rewrite the entire story. Also, by rewriting and editing as we go, as well as reworking illustrations now, as opposed to much later on, I'm becoming better at this storytelling thing.
     
  8. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I realise that by starting my comment with the sentence I did, I sounded as if I was telling the OP there is only one way to write. That wasn't my intention. My fault.

    What I meant (and I think I did clarify it later on, when I said some writers start by knowing what their beginnings are, and some don't) was that this particular writer seems to be struggling with finding a beginning. I feel strongly, when that happens, the best way forward is to keep going. Of course the perfect beginning can snap into place at any time, so maybe as she writes she'll experience a eureka moment and KNOW what it should be. Just go back and put it there, if that happens.

    The problem is, as she hinted, that she's not sure where the story is actually going at this point. That's what needs solving, and probably why the beginning just isn't there. It's a waste of time to keep circling round and round when the beginning isn't really the problem. So keep going, see where it all ends up.

    Once the writer knows the destination, then the writer can go back and start with something that pushes everything off in the right direction. The story may be linear, but the writing process doesn't need to be.
     
  9. bionerdwithaporpoise

    bionerdwithaporpoise New Member

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    My story falls into the fantasy genre, much on the grimdark side.

    For me, this idea for an opening seems the best yet, considering I don't know what else to do at the moment.

    I also forgot to include that the current first page of that opening contains about 5 curse words, and 2 fictional cursewords. Lol. I've always heard this was a no-no. But I'm just doing what I feel works best for the story. Time will tell.

    I think my main worry lies in the fact that I've neglected the first 1/3 of the story in my draft writing. I have an outline and know the crucial events throughout, but I haven't materialized any ideas further than that.


    @jannert I plan to just keep writing, but spend a lot of time in my outline and develop ideas further in the first 1/3 of the novel. I guess, with my first project at least, I'm the kind of writer that goes gung-ho on the middle and end. So I assume I'll stay in that area and work my way back as the pieces come together.

    Thanks everyone. These thoughts were very helpful :bigsmile:
     
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  10. ddavidv

    ddavidv Senior Member

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    I started my first novel with what I thought was an interesting 'hook' chapter. I finished the book, went back to edit it and wound up dropping the entire first chapter and starting with the second. The first chapter was completely unnecessary.

    I could have mulled over starting the book endlessly but I pretty much did what @jannert spoke of: I just kept writing.

    My second book I knew exactly where to start. Ditto the third. The fourth (the one I'm working on now) I've started twice. Same beginning but I've changed from 3rd person to 1st person narrative because the first version didn't feel right.

    Not sure about yours? Just write. Try something different. When you get it right you'll sense it.
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. I'd say the important thing is not to get yourself stuck. If you get to a bit of your story you can't quite figure out, give it a few tries, then skim over it and keep going. That includes the beginning.

    If you have a middle in mind, write it and let the ends develop as you go along. If you're immersed in your story itself, the kinks will work themselves out later on. Your subconscious brain will mull over any problem, and will eventually produce insight. Having faith in your subconscious is one of the best outlooks a writer can acquire. It takes the fear away, and gives you the desire to keep moving.

    As you say, it's easy to get all finished and realise the first chapter was a mistake. By that time, it's easy to ditch it because you can see it's no longer needed. But trying to ditch it at the time you write it can prove difficult. You want it to be RIGHT, so you tinker with words, tinker with approaches, etc. Meanwhile everything else gets stalled—and this can become a permanent problem, as many on this forum have indicated. You can end up giving up as a writer, or giving up on a particular story.

    Best to keep on writing.

    This is not a one-size-fits all strategy, of course. Some people must have a solid beginning to start with, so they wait till that's working well before they get the story moving. Others don't have any problems at all and just start writing at the beginning and keep going and everything is fine. All wonderful stuff.

    However, if you're a person who gets stuck anywhere at all, because you can't solve a problem or can't get that bit just RIGHT—and everything grinds to a halt while you write, re-write and re-write and re-write, and get nowhere—then it's probably a good idea to write past it and keep going.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017

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