Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Getting the Keys in the Ignition (Starting Your Story)

You have an idea. And it really is a great idea. A fantastic idea. But first, you have to get past that blank page. You have to somehow get the key in the ignition and start this story -- get the story engine revved and moving

Many would-be writers stop right there. If this describes you, then get your pen out and just start writing! Guess what the first draft of a story is called? Wow, you're smart: a first draft! It means this isn't the finished product. Some writers go through ten, twelve, twenty drafts before their story hits the public. What do you have to worry about now? Not about getting your story perfect. And not about getting that "gripping first line" perfect. You have to start your story. Get your ideas on paper.

Those of you in the "would-be-writer" group, you may stop reading the article and get to work. ;)

Now, some of you are here and all of your stories start with "Once upon a time" or "The sun rose in the sky" or another cliché idea -- anything to get you to the story. If your rough draft is finished, congratulations! You started and finished a story! But. You cannot leave your beginning like that. The first sentence of your story will either engage your reader, or turn them away. It is extremely important! Because of this, 99% of the time, the beginning of your story will need to be changed. For the fun of it, I asked a writer's group that I'm in, "How many of you changed your first sentence, paragraph, or even chapter, after rough draft?" Guess the answers I got? "A hundred times!" - "Oh yeah, over and over!" Several of them said they cut the first chapter completely out -- one of them even cut out the first two chapters. They realized that it wasn't necessary to the plot they had.

Some of you might be at loss with what to do for a new beginning of your story. I wish I had easy answers, but as I'm still working on crafting the beginnings of my stories, I can only give you some tips and ideas.
     - Write something that will hook your reader in the first sentence or two ("The sun rose in the sky" isn't very gripping. But what about, "Sarah refused to acknowledge that morning had finally come"?)
     - Choose an interesting first scene (start in the middle of your story -- Prince Reginald just discovering that he wasn't really the prince is more interesting than describing the back story of his life as a prince, which might not be relevant to the tale you're telling)
     - Raise questions about your character and his/her goals (In the examples above, why did Sarah dread this morning? If Prince Reginald wasn't the real prince, who was? and why did he live as if he was the prince for so long?)

Two things stop your story and make readers groan:
     - Information dump ("Sandra had grey eyes, sandy-brown hair, she was thirteen, had seven siblings who were ages ___. Her parents were both alive and loved the family and they lived happily together in Texas with their dogs, cats, cows, and rabbits." -- instead, weave this information throughout the story)
     - Back story (where you explain why your character is here and detail their past life after you've already started the story moving forward. Immediately going into back story instead of pushing the story forward to the future takes careful skill and purpose)

Thinking about the beginning of your story might be tedious and frustrating, but it is worth it!

I leave you with an assignment: go to your bookshelf and pull out ten books. How many of them entice you with the first sentence? How many take a paragraph? How many are just a little dull? Why? Use these observations as a key to start the engine in your own story.


What are some of your favorite story beginnings? What are some things you do when mastering your story's beginning? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


S.F. said...

Hello, Amanda! I found your blog through another writer's and I love it! This post especially was an encouragement, because I needed the urge to go and "get the keys in the ignition" for one of my stories. :) Thank you!

May God bless you in all that you do!

Love ~ S. F.

Amanda T. said...

Yay! I'm so glad it encouraged you to "pick up the pen." :)

P. Knapp said...

Thank you, Amanda.
This post really helped me start one of my stories!!

Thanks again.

Amanda T. said...

Hi Phoebe! I'm so, so glad to hear that! Best wishes on your writing!

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