Where to Start?

1382803_start_flagThe longer you’re in the writing world, the more advice you will receive about the writing craft and the more arguments you will hear disputing the advice given about the writing craft.

One of those areas of dispute is where to start your story. Some say begin in the action to hook the reader, and explain what’s up later (or not). Some say begin just before the action to give the reader a moment of orientation before heads explode. Some say “Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end: then stop.” OK, that would be the King of Hearts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but he’s got a point.

For the epic novelist, where does a story start? We begin with the belief this world and these people existed before you meet them and they will exist after you stop reading about them, and lots of things go into making this world and these people work.

The non-epic novelist has these same questions, but they’re generally on a smaller scale. You don’t need a map and a pronunciation guide and a genealogical chart to get through most novels, but the epic novel relies on them to keep the reader in the know.

With Star of Justice, where to start was obvious. With Price of Justice, not so much. Four years have passed for these characters, four years of incidences that are important but maybe not quite important enough to show as they’re happening. Which begs the question, when do things get important enough to show?

I thought I had a good beginning, but as I write, more pieces of important history keep getting in the way and I have no place to put them because the action moves the story forward, not backward.

It’s the age old dilemma of the author: how do I tell the best story?

Writing is a juggling act. Keeping viewpoints, character growth, action and plot goals in mind are complicated in the epic novel by multiple characters, a world that is often created as needed and the most important goal of all: engaging and maintaining reader interest.

The only advice I can offer is “begin with the end in mind.” I did this by accident with Star of Justice. I had one scene I wrote towards and once that scene was complete, what happened in the rest of the book became as obvious as where to start. Of course, Star of Justice was a one-viewpoint, single chronology storyline spanning 14 days. Rather simple for an epic novel, actually.

So, we see that “where to start” is a function of “what’s your story?” Know what you want to tell , and you’ll know where to begin.

About Robynn Tolbert

Born in Kansas and born again at age six, Robynn has published two novels and started her third. Robynn, aka Ranunculus Turtle, lives in Kansas with a clowder of cats, a patient dog and a garden.

5 comments on “Where to Start?

  1. This is where journaling comes in. If you have a goal in mind of where you want the story to wind up, and you have a general idea of where the story has to start, journaling your main characters’ daily events from that beginning to that end can be helpful in figuring out where the action is, and what the story has to be about.

    Some of us blunder into journaling by accident; and some of us discover it in desperation when the story won’t flow…

  2. You might consider novellas for some of the quieter, in-between scenes. Vox Dei has done this to some effect with his Selenoth stories.
    Or with Feist, it seems like with each part of the series he first asked where is the crisis.

  3. Hergot, definitely a possibility in today’s ebook marketplace. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Ever since I heard, “Start the story on the day your MC’s life changes”, I haven’t had any problem starting a story. It also lends itself to some fun hooks. “Indal didn’t kill the angelus.” “Thump, thump, thump. Revi beat her head against the telephone pole.” “Aesti was a great gloomy powersuit with a soul.”

    Mostly it comes down to figuring out what kickstarts the story into gear, and starting from there. Of course, it’s easy to write three or four chapters that have to get cut in the editing process. The most important thing is to start. 🙂

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