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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Starting Is One of the Hardest Parts

Starting a story is hard.

A lot of beginning writers info dump at the front of their stories, explaining everything and giving reams of back story. I can't tell you how many contests I judged where the opening pages had nothing but explanation. "And when she was five..."

Info dumping is not good and it's not entertaining. Go with the iceberg rule. The author should know about 90% more about the characters than what's mentioned in the book. That 10% you do get to share? That should be dribbled in a bit at a time, not tossed out there like mountain that has to be crossed before the story actually gets underway. I read somewhere that with most first books, the author can toss chapters 1-3 and start at chapter four--that's how much info dumping goes on.

Some beginning writers see the advice to start the story in the middle of action and do exactly that with no buildup, no explanation as to who the characters are and what's going on. This is not good either. If the reader doesn't care about the characters, the action is meaningless. There is no suspense if the heroine is in a shootout and we don't know anything about her.

But while it's easy to point out what not to do, finding the right place to begin is much more difficult. Often, there are so many options. Sometimes the characters take pity on me and show me what I think is the perfect opening only to have my editor tell me to start somewhere else.

I think my track record for being allowed to keep the opening I turned the story in with is about 50%.

Right now, I'm struggling with this very thing--where should this story start? I thought I had one really good opening, but decided no, it wasn't going to work. I probably over think this, but the opening is the ground onto which the story's foundation must be built. If I don't lay the right foundation, the whole book could end up leaning like a decrepit house.

But since my brain keeps circling back to a very similar place, I'm going to try starting there and then see what happens. I can always scrap it and try again.