How to Start Your Story

Story beginnings are hard. I often make a common mistake with my stories – starting them too early. What this means is that I include too much backstory upfront. Sometimes it’s information I need to know about the characters and their situation, but it’s not something the reader needs to know.

A story needs to start with some kind of conflict or hook. If you think the start of your story could be a little slow, try beginning it later. Perhaps chapter two, or three or even four might be a better place to start.

No matter what the length of your story, the beginning or opening is what encourages your reader to keep reading and involves them in the characters and what is happening to them.

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.

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

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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

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:-)