Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Where Does Your Story Begin?

I was partaking in a critique group this Saturday with three other writers and the topic of where to begin your manuscript came up.   They are reviewing a new Dystopian I am working on and asked why I started the book where I did, why not start the story right before the cataclysmic event to give the reader a better feel for exactly what happened.  My answer:
Start your character's journey as close to the end as possible!

Sounds weird, I know.  You are probably wondering how I get all the necessary events and character struggles in if I am purposefully condensing my time frame.  Doesn’t that cataclysmic event define my charters actions; and, if so, how can I create a dynamic character if I start my manuscript after that poignant event? Simple.  I add all that in over the course of 72,000 words.

Well placed back-story in the form of memories, dialogue, and internal reflection all play a part. Rather then what I fondly refer to as “an introductory chapter of stage setting,” toss me in to the thick of it, let me connect with your character’s raw emotion before you explain him or her away.


  1. Yes! I tell people the same thing all the time!

  2. It's a great point that I am (finally) learning to do!

  3. I agree. It's taken me a long time to realize that if you plop your reader down in the thick of the action, you're drawing them in immediately rather than setting them up to hopefully draw them in down the road. Good post:)

  4. That's been my motto ever since I heard it. Still have to work on getting to it--I like back-story a little too much-- but, it's always in mind!

  5. Sounds great to me and a lot more fun.

  6. I like starting in the actions, then using a few flashbacks for backstory.

    New follower...


  7. Thank you! This makes tons of sense, and I will be sharing your tip with young writers as they work on their short stories. Why keep readers waiting? Lovely blog! A.

  8. I like starting in the thick of things too. If a novel I'm reading takes too long to stage-set, I get bored. Great post!

  9. I love this conceptually - start in the middle of action, but the art of it comes in when you realize that if you start too much in the middle of the action, before we CARE about the main character, it doesn't grab us in the way it must. Sometimes you need to back up a bit, hint like all heck that action's on its way, get us to care, and then, WHAM! It's definitely a challenge to start in just the right place.
    thanks for having this discussion, (and for being part of the comment challenge!)

  10. I began one manuscript at the end of the story, only I didn't know it until Sir Arthur Levine critiqued my pages.
    Lupe F.