Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Where to start my story? It took me a week to decide where to start this blog post...

I have been having a heck of a time with the "where to begin" part of the story. I constantly seem to struggle between a sensible well rounded comfortable entry point, a sexier more immersive action oriented one AFTER the inciting incident, and a clever well placed one that allows a little set up and then introduces the inciting incident quickly. It seems like the perfect beginning should do all those things you pointed out earlier Nola, but is their a hierarchy of importance? Do different stories call for different openings? Is there a stylistic synchronization that should take place? Or is their a more objective formula for a starting point? "It has to do this, this and this and nothing else." I know everyone likes a story to kick off and make that up front promise: "here's what you're going to get and if you like this first bit you'll like the rest." But i'm having trouble starting my story in the high energy place it goes to because i want the first immersion into the action to really feel like a big change, so the reader can go on the same trip as the main character. Though this keeps leading me into a tedious start.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Beginnings, cont.

Beginnings are all about the expectation of the reader.  As a writer, that means that I have to establish the style/tone of the story, set up a sense of what normal is for my characters, and then pull the rug out from under them all while creating a sense of suspense and anticipation for my reader.
My rough draft beginnings are purely a place to start writing, but by the second or third draft my stories are much more solid and I can think about where the real beginning should be - what will start the story off with the right tone and draw the reader in?  I write suspenseful stories, so there needs to be something weird, creepy, or otherwise unsettling within the first couple of pages.  My main character may not understand it, but his life is changing forever, and I want my reader to have a strong sense of that.
In thrillers and horror stories, this often involves getting a glimpse of the villain at the very beginning.  This may be a paragraph or scene, or it may be done with point of view where we see our characters being watched by something icky.  The second bit of this beginning is nearly always the daily life of the main characters - the mundane contrasting with the creepy to create a deep sense of foreboding on the part of the reader.
That second piece, the establishment of normal, is crucial.  My reader needs to understand at least a little of what is status quo for my character so that the events to come have their proper impact.  This establishment of normal may be only a paragraph, but it is essential, especially for stories of suspense.
As a reader, do you like to get a lot of action right up front, or do you prefer a bit of the normal before the rug is pulled out?  Does the genre or tone/style of the story change your expectations for beginnings?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Begin the beginning

Why is it so hard to find the right place to begin a story, especially a novel? Do you begin before the beginning so the reader meets the main character before her life changes, begin in the middle, at the moment of change, and what do you think about prologues?

For my work in progress, I tried about four different beginnings before settling on one that's two scenes prior to the big life changing event. I think it works because Mabel's in the middle of a conflict that will pull her through until the big moment. As much as I really like my opening scene, I know that I might still have to change it after I've completed all of the second draft.

How do you know when you've started a story in the right place? Are books out there that just nailed the beginning even though they've broken the rules? What do you think those rules are?