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?


Sarah Matanah said...

I agree about having a bit of normal. The reader can get a sense of what the character is like in their natural environment. Of course this may not be normal for anyone except your character.

Anonymous said...

"Of course this may not be normal for anyone except your character."

LOL - this is especially true in Weird Fiction!!

Laura Bradley Rede said...

I think I like to be dumped into the action in a short story but begin with a taste of normal in a novel. Which isn't to say that a novel shouldn't start with tension or conflict, just that it's okay with me if the conflict is more of the everyday variety-- a conflict rather than The Conflict :)

Anonymous said...

I'd agree with Laura that scale definitely plays a part - there just isn't time to develop a lot of "normal" in a short story. Plus, I think the best short stories are little scenes from life - like bits of home movies - and context is usually extra. . .