Every story has a beginning, that “once upon a time” moment when your reader settles in and prepares for what they hope will be a wonderful story that will keep them interested until the end. But that isn’t the real beginning. The real beginning happens when a germ of an idea hits the author, taking root in his mind and growing until the writer has no choice but to sit down and write the story.
Each writer has a different system for writing. Some are plotters and make outlines of the story or book before they get started. Even here, there are no solid rules. Some plotters operate with a minimal outline that shows the basic story arc and nothing else. Others are so detailed in their outlining that they have an entry for every scene. There are even a few I’ve heard of that have an entry for every paragraph. (Since a detailed outline sends me over the edge, I’d probably run screaming into the night if I had to do an outline that hit on every paragraph.)
Then there are the pantsers, those writers who sit down at the keyboard and simply write. They might have an idea in their head about where the story goes but they simply write as it comes to them. Think of this as more of a stream of consciousness method of writing.
Add to the mix those writers who write scenes as they come to them or who write the end first and then go from there. Some, when writing a story from multiple points of view, write the story from a single point of view and, once done, go back and write from the other point — or points — of view.
In other words, there is no one correct way to start a project. You do what works best for you and for the project. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. The key is to simply sit and start writing. If you never start, you will never finish and finishing is the ultimate goal.
Note that — finishing is the ultimate goal. Not editing. Not publishing. Not winning awards. Why? Because if you never finish anything, none of the rest of that will happen.
And, if you never start, none of it will happen.
But where do you start your story? That’s a question every writer has to ask herself and, quite often, the answer is wrong. There are times when a writer will start a book too soon — give the reader too much information they don’t need right up front in an attempt to set the stage. Think about it this way: if you are reading a mystery, you don’t want to read chapter after chapter without ever getting to the mystery. If you are reading a romance, you want to at least have a hint of what the romance might be pretty quickly into the book.
Then there are times when the author starts too late. Sure, in a mystery you want to grab your reader and very often these days that means you start with a murder or some other serious crime. However, unless you are very, very good, you don’t want your protagonist to know who the bad guy is from page one. You don’t particularly want your reader to know either. If they know who did it, you have just made your job all the more difficult because you have to find some other reason to keep them reading.
So, as a writer, finding that right beginning — having the discipline to sit down and write to the finish, finding the right start of the book, finding the right hook for the book — is one of the most important things you will do.
How do you begin your work? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you have problems finishing something you’ve started? Have you seen stories that you think began at the wrong place?