Thursday, March 13, 2008

Where Does YOUR Story Start?

Well duh, Peg. Is this a trick question?

Um, no.

Okay, then. My story starts at the beginning.

Are you sure? I encourage you to take another look.

You can write the greatest hook in the world. Your first twenty words might be so hot your book flies off the shelves.

But if the next twenty pages are a buildup for What Happens Next, your readers aren't going to be too happy. I sure wouldn't be.

Your story probably really starts with What Happens Next.

But this stuff is important.

I'm sure if you wrote it, it is. But can the story get started without it?

In the manuscript I'm writing now, my protagonists have their story that bleeds into the one I'm writing. That part of their story took place two years ago. Believe me when I tell you it would bore you to tears. I ought to know. I wrote it. Want to read two years worth of family angst to build up to the real story?

Vigorous shaking of head.

Didn't think so.

I start with a murder. It's a 300-word prologue. The first chapter opens with my male protagonist reading a few obituaries. My reader gets the idea the two might be connected.

The previous two-years are there, but I'm not writing about them. The important pieces will get sprinkled in enough to fill in the blanks.

So what do I do?

One of the best pieces of advice I've received to date is to come in late and leave early. It applies to writing scenes. Every scene. And that includes the opener.

Start where the real story starts. Not the setup. Not the background. Don't let your reader down by opening with a hot hook, and then letting the fire die out because you're out gathering really cool fuel. Have bigger and bigger pieces of wood ready to load on that fire and keep it roaring.

In suspense, the reader doesn't want to see someone trying to light the fire. They want to walk into a blaze. And they like it to get blazier and blazier.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Your comment about walking into the blaze doesn't only apply to suspense, Peg. I've been judging contest since the first of January--giving back and all that stuff-- and I'm amazed at the number of writers who are using the first ten pages as info dumps. Okay, so I get that there's a REASON page eleven happens, but gimme a break.

    I like a lot of dialogue. When I thumb through books, if I don't see a lot of dialogue that book goes back on the shelf. One ms. I judged had 24 pages of angst, instrospection and back story, and only 2 pages of dialogue. Yep, I kept dozing off. I had to read that sucker again--just to make sure I was fair to the writer. ;(

    This blog post should be required reading!

  2. So, so true. I'm just working out what needs to be in the opening scene of my new WIP, and it's so tricky. It's hard not to give too much info, not to risk losing the reader, but at the same time putting in enough to catch them and keep them reading.