Where To Start?
‘Start at the beginning and go on to the end….’ says the King, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but the skills for Kingship are not necessarily the same as those needed by writers, so this might not be the best advice.
It is not always best to start at the beginning and it is not even always clear when a story begins. Should you start with the birth of the main character? Not very often, although it works perfectly sometimes.
Start, I suggest, when something interesting or exciting is happening and grab the reader’s attention. Filling in the background; unfolding gradually the reasons and explanations for what went before, what led to the situation you open with; revealing the motives and conflicting interests of the main protagonists is all just as important, and may be more important than what happens thereafter.
Of course there is no one-way to do anything. Chronological story telling works well for some kinds or stories, Family Sagas, perhaps spanning two or three generations, for example or Historical Dramas that are designed to be ‘fictionalised’ social history.
But if the story is a Thriller and starts with someone being threatened or pursued or desperate then his attempts to escape, stay free while he solves a mystery, rescues someone or exposes a scandal, or to discover a way to fight back will run alongside the gradual revelations of how he got into danger.
If it is a Courtroom Drama and you start with the ‘accused’ already in the dock, there will be an extra tension in finding out why he has ended up there, or even if he is guilty, and if not then who is? Is he the underdog, wrongly accused? Was he driven by injustices or pressures he could not resist? Is he taking the blame to protect someone else? Is he being set up by some unscrupulous character with a grudge?
If the story opens with a family crisis the reasons may seem obvious, but a clever unfolding of the hidden conflicts and influences in the family may lead to a totally unexpected conclusion.
Simple straightforward story telling, done with flair is perfectly valid and definitely commands a market. But a more intriguing way of unfolding the story, allowing the reader to engage with the characters and piece together what is going on, rather than just explaining it to them, gives the reader a stake in the plot, a chance to get to know the characters little by little, just as you get to know new people, over a period, that you meet in real life. It gives them something to work out and does not patronise them, as too much explanation can do. It is the old adage ‘show, don’t tell’.
A storyline is a sequence of events but they do not have to be told sequentially. Motives, past tensions, internal conflicts and moral dilemmas being revealed, after we know some of the consequences of them, can be more startling and dramatic.
It can be more satisfying, when the climax of the story is reached, and the resolution of the main conflicts become known, if the characters have revealed the background influences on them, and the situation, from their own points of view, perhaps through dialogue, or in short flashback sequences. We rarely get to know someone or find out their life-story in one long explanation in everyday life. We observe events and draw conclusions, maybe ask questions and develop understanding over time.
Blog 53. Category: Advice and Information. Tags:Creative Writing,Starting Points,Story telling,Openings