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Friday, March 28, 2014

Tips on Starting a Story

Anonymous asked: Do you have any tips on starting a story? Haha, sorry, I'm new at this thing .-.

Don’t be sorry. Many writers feel the starting of the story is the hardest part to get right—and with good reason!

Luckily, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve read literally thousands of story beginnings, reading through slush piles.

First off, there are basically two methods of writing: “Pantsing” and “Plotting.” Some writers like to just start writing a story without an outline or anything, and they just discover their plot and characters as they go. People who do this are called “discovery writers,” or informally, “pantsers.” Other writers like to have a solid outline before they start a novel. They may even plan out the dialogue and action for a scene before they write it. These are “plotters,” or “planners.” A lot of writers use a hybrid method of both.

If you are a pantser, you might just need to sit down and start writing and see where your story takes you. You might need to write to “find” your starting—you can always cut off the stuff that doesn’t belong. Sit down and just let your ideas flow to get started.

If you’re a plotter, you’ll need to take some time to think about your characters, action, dialogue, setting, and conflict beforehand. You’ll need to take some time to brainstorm.

Remember, whatever method, you can go back and revise and edit your starting.

With that said, here are some guidelines that are nearly rules for beginnings:

1. Start with immediacy. 
A lot of writers want to start their story with a flashback or a dream. Start it in the present. Readers won’t care about flashbacks and dreams until they care about what is happening in the present (generally speaking). The present demands attention, because it’s happening right now, in front of the reader. So, no matter how bad you want to, hold off on flashbacks and dreams for much later in the story.

Along the same lines, avoid opening a story where a character is just sitting and thinking and not acting. When your character is sitting and thinking, there isn’t much tension. Put your character in motion.

2. Have conflict.
Have conflict on the first or second page of your story. Many professionals believe that in a short story, the main conflict should be introduced by the end of the first page. Because novels are longer, people have the tendency to think they can get to conflict later. Don’t wait. The sooner you introduce a riveting conflict, the sooner your reader is invested in the story.

3. Establish your setting and characters.
A problem I see a lot in the submission pile is that the setting isn’t clear. The reader needs to know where your characters are. Are they in a market? an airplane? A mine? Let your readers hear, smell, see, feel, and maybe even taste the setting.

Also, introduce your characters. Sometimes we get submissions where the story doesn’t tell us the age, sex, or even name of the main character. The sooner your reader can start a “relationship” with your character, the sooner they will care about what happens to him or her, and the more powerful your story becomes. Personally, I tend to find the best stories start with multiple characters, not just one. I like to see the characters interacting with each other.

Those are the main things to watch out for. Like all writing “rules.” there are exceptions, but you need to learn the rules before you can break them appropriately.

I hope that helped!


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