Tuesday Writing Tips – Where Should I Start My Story?

IMAG2550What’s the best place to start my story?

I have been asked this question a lot lately and while there is no one answer or ‘right way’ to do it, there are some things to keep in mind.

The main character

Particularly if it’s a story for kids or teenagers, the reader will need to meet your main character straight away.  The sooner they connect with your character, the sooner you will hook them into the story.

Start AT the story

This might seem like a strange thing to say, but especially when you first begin writing, it’s quite common for writers to start their story before it actually happens.

For example, if your story starts with the character’s brother arriving home from the war, don’t show the character walking down the hallway to open the front door and find their brother standing there, start your story from the moment he/she opens the door and finds their long lost brother standing there.

Don’t start with back story or information dumps where you give the reader lots of detail about your characters. Try and show characterisation by action and dialogue and how a character interacts with the setting.

Think about how you are starting your story. Are you starting it with something that the reader needs to know or something that the author needs to know? (Authors need to know a lot of background information about their characters because that’s what makes them who they are – but readers don’t necessarily need to know all this.) If your story starts with something that you have discovered as the author, but the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know, then you need to think about a stronger beginning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYour story must start with a piece of action that’s essential for the reader to understand, be hooked into or be interested in your story.

By action, I don’t necessarily mean a murder or a shooting or a car chase – I mean something has to actually happen in your story, not just be talked about – for example, the long lost brother arriving home. Don’t talk about him arriving home – show it happening – show your character’s actions and reactions.

Inciting incident

This brings me to the next point.  Every story needs an inciting incident – this is the event that starts the story off – it’s the reason why things change for your character now, on this day at this time.

An inciting incident could be something like the long lost brother arriving home from the war, a letter in the mail, an accident – a piece of action that starts the story in motion.

An inciting incident is the thing that starts the chain of events that are your story – the chain of events that are going to change your main character’s life forever.

I hope this helps you getting started with your story.

If you have any other tips about how or when to start your story – or experiences to share, please feel free to post them in the comments section of this article.

Happy Writing:)

Dee

Advertisements

2012 – The Year of Possibilities and Learning

Last year I had a list of goals a mile long. It was my year of chasing rainbows.

To tell you the truth, I haven’t been back to revisit my goals. The thing about writing goals is that they’re not easily measurable. You can’t say, I’m going to have a book published this year (unless it’s been scheduled) because there are so many factors that are out of your hands.

So, when it comes to writing goals, I look at them more as a means to get me to focus on what I want to achieve for the year.

I guess it’s a bit like doing an elevator pitch. If I can’t contain my goals to a paragraph then chances are I’ve made them too complex and that makes them hard to achieve.

So, if I could sum up my goals for this year, they would be to make the most of opportunities and learn as much as I can about my craft.

2012 is going to be my Year of Possibilities & Learning.

I have a number of manuscripts polished and ready to go. So this is going to be my year of getting them ‘out there’, of biting the bullet and being brave, and submitting. (They are my possibilities)

It’s going to be my year for exploring new genre, for trying my hand at things I’ve never tried before; different ‘points of view’, different styles and new skills. See, I’ve probably set too many goals already, but when it all boils down to it, it’s about honing my skills and working harder at becoming a better writer.

So this is the process I’ve gone through to work towards that goal.

1.  Look at the things I’m not so good at – the things that always seem to come up when I’m having my work critiqued. I’m going to share them with you.

The Things I could Do Better:

  1. story beginnings
  2. story endings
  3. simplifying plot
  4. exploring setting and developing it more
  5. strengthening my characters by focussing on the things they don’t say.
  6. avoid word repetition

2.  Buy books that can help me. I know I’m going to have to work hard at these things. Two books I’ve bought to help me are Martha Alderson’s, ‘The Plot Whisperer’ and mary Mary Buchkam and Dianna Love’s “Break Into Fiction’, so I’ve got a bit of light reading planned this summer:)

I also got some fabulous tips from Michael Bourret at the SCBWI LA conference last August..and the fabulous Ellen Hopkins.

3.  Enrol in short courses like Mary Buckham’s Master Classes online on Active Settings and Body Language and Emotion.

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything like these online courses so I’m very excited. I’ll be sure to share what I’ve learned.

My US author friend, Laura Elliott has decided that 2012 will be her Year of Just Do it!

My Australian author buddy, Karen Collum seems to have the ‘measurable writing goals’ thing worked out. You might like to read her blog.

Hope you have a happy and inspirational year in 2012. I’d love to hear about what you have planned for this year.

Happy writing:)
Dee

PACING THE START OF YOUR NOVEL

Pickachew Rabbit agrees that you need to relax with the start of your novel:)

My husband sometimes teases me for the way I start behind the wheel on a long road trip, driving faster than I normally would. I’m not exactly sure why I do this and I soon settle back into my normal rhythm.

It occurred to me the other day that this is how I start a novel – and it’s not really a good way to write either. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve had it dinned it to me that I have to hook the reader right for the start, maybe it’s just the nervous excitement of the new project. But what I’ve realised is that if my readers are exhausted by the end of chapter one, they just won’t keep reading.

On the other hand, I don’t want them snoring either – it’s all about finding the right balance. When I was at the SCBWI LA conference recently I was lucky enough to have my manuscript assessed by US agent, Michael Bourret and I learned so much from the experience.

It was this assessment that made me realise that I need time to settle into a novel and that I really need to think carefully about how I introduce my characters and lead the reader into the story.

I had submitted ten pages of a YA thriller that I thought needed plenty of action to hook the reader – but after speaking to Michael I realised that I might have overdone it a little.

As Michael pointed out, it moved very fast and there were not enough beats or pauses, time allowed for the reader to draw breath and absorb. In some parts there was too much detail and in others, he felt I’d skipped over important information.

His overall comment on plot and structure was, “The pacing feels much too fast. We never pause or linger, so nothing really sets in.”

Michael’s suggestion was that I think about changing from present to past tense and slow things down. He also made me realise that I had about four scene changes in the first chapter.

So here’s what I learned about Pacing the start of the novel:

  1. You need a hook, but not manic action
  2. Give the reader time to linger and absorb what they’re reading (the foreshadowing I had put in the first chapter was lost because there was so much else going on.)
  3. It can be helpful to consider a different tense or point of view in order to make your novel more accessible for the reader – and allow them to form a closer connection with your main character.
  4. Limit the number of scenes in your first chapter and explore each one thoroughly before you move on.
  5. Let the reader get to know your main character so they will care what happens to them and will want to follow their progress in your story.

I’m now going to try rewriting my novel in past tense. I’ve also taken my foot off the accelerator and I’m allowing my main character more time to reflect. I have a lot of work to do in the rewrites, but I feel renewed enthusiasm for my story knowing that thanks to my SCBWI LA assessment, I have the tools I need to make it better.

If you have any tips or experiences on pacing the start of the novel, feel free to share them in the comments section here.

Happy writing:)

Dee

HOW TO GET YOUR READER’S ATTENTION, AND KEEP IT – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

No matter what the length of your story, the beginning or opening is what hooks your reader and involves them in the characters and what is happening to them. It’s what gets them into the story.

There are many things that a story beginning has to achieve:

  • Attract reader attention
  • Keep reader attention
  • Establish time and place in which the action is happening
  • Introduce the main character
  • Give some clues as to what the stories is about. Letters to Leonardo opens with a letter from the main character, Matt, to Leonardo da Vinci. This is an indication to the reader that letters, art and Leonardo da Vinci are probably important to the story.
  • Give reader an idea of what kind of story it is. For example, if you are writing a psychological thriller, a funny slapstick beginning will attract the wrong type of reader. The reader will soon realise this is NOT a funny story, and they will lose interest.

Early on in Letters to Leonardo, I wanted to establish the fact that Matt does not come from an ‘average’ family background. I thought this would help build up suspense and curiosity for the reader – the feeling that something unexpected might happen.

In his second letter to Leonardo da Vinci, Matt says, “I don’t do furry pets and family holidays – probably comes from growing up without a mum. Tomorrow’s my birthday. I guess I could tell you about that.”

As well as giving hints about Matt’s family background, this piece foreshadows to the reader that something unexpected could be about to happen.

The beginning must arouse the reader’s interest – give them something to keep reading. In Letters to Leonardo, it’s Matt’s first letter. But your beginning can be in any format. It can be scary, funny, shocking, bizarre, too ordinary – or whatever sort of beginning you choose – just as long as it hooks the reader and is in keeping with the rest of the story.

Right from the start, your character must have a strong and unique voice – something that helps the reader engage with them in an empathetic way, something that makes the reader interested, wanting to know more about this person.

We will tackle ‘voice’ in a future writing tip, but look at some of your favourite books and how they start – look at the main characters and see what it is that appeals to you about them.

If you introduce a strong main character immediately and get straight into the action, you can’t go far wrong.

Hope this helps you get off to a great start with your next story.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

WHERE DO I START MY STORY? Whose Point Of View?

Whenever, I’m going to begin a new story, I always start with a head full of ideas…and a big piece of blank paper.

I ask myself a lot of questions – the two main ones being:

  1. What’s going to happen in my story?
  2. Who do I want to tell my story?

WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN IN MY STORY

This is the plotting part – this is where I sit down and try to free my mind and just write down random ideas that come into my head. I don’t rearrange them into the story order until later – and some of the original ideas won’t get used at all. This is the mind-mapping part I talked about on Tuesday.

Sometimes I even change what happens in my story as I go. Sometimes, the character decides they want to go in a completely different direction. In fact, the more I think about who the main character really is – and what motivates them – the more the plot for my story develops.

When I’m thinking about the plot for my story, I think about:

  1. What is going to happen?
  2. How is it going to happen?
  3. Why is it going to happen?
  4. When is it going to happen?
  5. Where is it going to happen?
  6. WHO is it going to happen to?

WHO IS GOING TO TELL MY STORY?

This isn’t as simple as it sounds. I am the writer, and yes…I am the one writing down the story…but whose eyes will I tell it through? Whose point of view shall I tell the story from?

If I tell it in first person point of view (using ‘I’); then I will probably have the main character tell my story. This way of telling a story lets me write what is going on in my main character’s head.

For example: I don’t do furry pets and family holidays – probably comes from growing up without a mum. (From ‘Letters to Leonardo’ published by Walker Books 2009).

I could tell it from third person point of view where someone narrates what is happening to my main character, and this lets me describe more how things look etc.

For example: Matt wasn’t into furry pets and family holidays. There had always just been him and Dad, and they never went anywhere.

If I want to tell it from more than one person’s point of view, I can do this is third person omniscient where I hop from one character’s head to another. This can be a great way of adding lots of different perspectives to the story, but it can get confusing if you hop around too much.

For example: Matt had never been on a family holiday. Dad worked every weekend so they never got to go anywhere. Troy’s family went away all the time. Troy wondered how Matt coped with the boredom.

Don’t be afraid to change to a different point of view if the first one you tried doesn’t seem to be working. And don’t worry about scribbling all over the blank paper in writing that your mother couldn’t read. It’s important to get your ideas down so they don’t become a mish mash in your head. Then you can decide the order later.

The most important thing with starting a story is to ‘Start It’. Don’t put it off any longer. If you want to be a writer…you have to write, write and write some more.

Happy writing:-)

Dee

TIPS FOR YOUNG WRITERS – How to get your reader’s attention and keep it!

Hope you enjoyed the Sneak Peek.

Now we cross to http://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com to talk about how to get your story started – how to hook your reader and keep them.

We’ll be back here in about 15 minutes for the first review of Letters to Leonardo by a young adult reader.

Thanks for coming:-)

Dee and Matt:-)