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zarada
02-26-2013, 02:04 PM
this applies primarily to novels, obviously, as short stories usually work themselves out.

i have been agionising over the rewriting of an existing WIP from an entirely new perspective, with new and expanded sobplots and characters, etc... BUT, i am absolutely lost as to where to start.

some main points already agreed upon (me and muse) in regards to the lifting of the curtain:



the MC must be present
the scene must be important to the MC or the story
there must be at least some tension, but NO whammies (can't hit the reader over the head right off the bat... where could we possibly go to from there??)
the whole of it must in a subtle way foreshadow the gist of it all.

but.... cannot for the life of me decide where, oh, where?? :cry:

seun
02-26-2013, 02:08 PM
Take five published books and read the openings to each. I'd bet all the the money in my pocket (about 3 quid) they start with someone interesting doing something interesting or at least experiencing something interesting.

Mr Flibble
02-26-2013, 02:11 PM
Hard to say without knowing your story but where does it all start to go wrong for your MC? At what point will their life never be the same again? Start a paragraph or two before that...

zarada
02-26-2013, 02:20 PM
Take five published books and read the openings to each. I'd bet all the the money in my pocket (about 3 quid) they start with someone interesting doing something interesting or at least experiencing something interesting.

um, thanks, that's already verified and established -- see my 1 to 4. but i appreciate your chipping in ;)

zarada
02-26-2013, 02:23 PM
Hard to say without knowing your story but where does it all start to go wrong for your MC? At what point will their life never be the same again? Start a paragraph or two before that...

well, it's complicated. more like where the MC begins to see a glimmer of hope thing. but already done that, and i didn't like how it turned out. it makes it all too... predictable?

Mr Flibble
02-26-2013, 02:36 PM
It's always complicated. :D

But perhaps you could expand so we can get where you're coming from? How would that make it predictable? etc.etc.

Kerosene
02-26-2013, 02:47 PM
I like a slow rumble opening. That needs:
- Insert of character. Bring me a character I can care for, and showcase why I should care for them.
- Conflict, of some kind. Doesn't have to be the major one, but at the end of the chapter I need to see the major conflict.
- A goal. The character has to make up their minds to do something, either for the entire novel or the foreseeable future.
- Some kind of foreshadowing. "This is going to happen." And try to complicate that.
- Avoid prologues as much as possible for now. Focus on the opening first chapter, that's it.

Look at the ending (you have on in sight, right?). And ask yourself how everything starts in motion towards that.

EDT: You can make hope misleading. If someone is going to happen and we all know it, then distract us with something shiny until it happens--that's a surprise.

Chris P
02-26-2013, 03:19 PM
I like a slow rumble opening. That needs:
- Insert of character. Bring me a character I can care for, and showcase why I should care for them.
- Conflict, of some kind. Doesn't have to be the major one, but at the end of the chapter I need to see the major conflict.
- A goal. The character has to make up their minds to do something, either for the entire novel or the foreseeable future.
- Some kind of foreshadowing. "This is going to happen." And try to complicate that.
- Avoid prologues as much as possible for now. Focus on the opening first chapter, that's it.

Look at the ending (you have on in sight, right?). And ask yourself how everything starts in motion towards that.

EDT: You can make hope misleading. If someone is going to happen and we all know it, then distract us with something shiny until it happens--that's a surprise.

As said above, it's always complicated. The opening to one of my novels was exactly these points here: a character deciding to do something (the goal) for a very good reason (caring about the character) despite reasons not to (the conflict) and subtle foreshadowing (foreshadowing) that it might not be such a good idea after all. Everyone hated it. I posted it here and could hear the yawns through my monitor. I ditched the chapter, added about 500 words to the beginning of chapter 2, then posted it as the opening, to rave reviews.

I'm not saying your advice is bad, Will, quite the opposite, but the problem with a formula is someone (like me) can look at it and say "but I've DONE that!" and still not have a workable opening (like I had--or didn't have, as the case may be).

What seems to be working better for me is to start like the OP mentioned about short stories: in the middle of something happening and let it work itself out. If the action is convincing enough, the reader will continue through and pick up the "set up" bits as he or she goes. True, someone can do this and still not have a workable opening, which is why it's always complicated. It's all in the execution and follow-through to the next part of the book.

zarada
02-26-2013, 03:26 PM
It's always complicated. :D

But perhaps you could expand so we can get where you're coming from? How would that make it predictable? etc.etc.

heehee. i'm afraid this would take more of your and my time than we can spare right now. you'll just have to trust me :tongue

Mr Flibble
02-26-2013, 03:27 PM
Um, well, not a lot more I can say then, really! Maybe study a few openings, see what works? Unless you could give us the potted version?

zarada
02-26-2013, 03:31 PM
i agree with Will

i agree with Chris

it's just this... actual touching the tip of the pen to paper thing leaving behind a legible trail of ink. AND keep myself from tearing up the page before reaching the bottom. metaphorically speaking, as i use a laptop most of the time.

zarada
02-26-2013, 03:32 PM
Um, well, not a lot more I can say then, really! Maybe study a few openings, see what works? Unless you could give us the potted version?

i believe that i will, in due course. thanks :)

Kerosene
02-26-2013, 03:58 PM
Chris, I agree with you that sometimes a book needs to start in media res, but some not so much.
I write SFF, so I can get away with it more.
I'm just offering my thoughts in hope that they generate something.

Rhoda Nightingale
02-26-2013, 04:28 PM
My beta tells me. Really.

The last two manuscripts I actually finished, I started in the wrong place. And either she, or someone in SYW, or someone in my workshop pointed out where I should have started. So right now, I still have no idea. I know that what they told me works better than what I had before, but I still don't understand quite why.

bearilou
02-26-2013, 04:30 PM
Consider that your beginning will be more apparent on where you need to start once you've reached the end.

My process? I just pick a place that at first blush appears to be as close to the events of the story taking off and write from there. In the editing, after the story has been written, is when I determine whether I really started at the right place or not.

And funny...answering this question has illuminated where I was having problems in a short story I was writing and why it was taking me so beastly long to finish it.

...I've started in the wrong place!

Stevewritesbooks
02-26-2013, 04:50 PM
Start as close to the action as you can. Start Late.

As far as your "Rule 3" - You can make the reader ask "Where do you go from THAT?" in your opening, as long as you've got a direction to go in. (I'm thinking of the bombastic intro to Saints Row 3 at the moment, but a book equivelent escapes me.)

Bufty
02-26-2013, 06:00 PM
Originally posted by Zarada:
heehee. i'm afraid this would take more of your and my time than we can spare right now. you'll just have to trust me :tongueNope.

Wherever you start, remember the reader must have a reason to turn the page - he will not read on for ever simply because you have written stuff on the page.

What you have written must be interesting to read, but it must also lead somewhere, preferably sooner than later.

Routine is boring - so start your story at or very close to where your protagonist's routine is irreversably interrupted and he is forced to follow a path of no return.

That's about as vague as I can make it but still hopefully be of some help in assisting you to work out where to start.

Whatever you write should lead you on to what you write next -in other words future events unfold based upon previous events and what you have already written, so if you cannot get beyond the foot of page one- scrap it and start afresh.

CourtneyC
02-26-2013, 06:18 PM
I'd say start your story where your MC is trying to do something towards their story goal (as opposed to trying to do the dishes). This is a hard question, and I may still not have gotten it right. I wrote my MS in chronological order, but after some feedback, went back and lopped off my first 3 chapters and replaced it with one paragraph. That allowed me to sprinkle in clues about what had already happened. I KNEW my original opening was important so I originally started there, but I kept trying to rush through the scene to get to the "good stuff," and my Betas protested that I wasn't giving the scene enough emotion.

Cutting my original beginning was liberating and helped me add suspense at my new opening. All best to you as you work through it for yourself. Other eyes are invaluable with this.

quicklime
02-26-2013, 06:26 PM
Take five published books and read the openings to each. I'd bet all the the money in my pocket (about 3 quid) they start with someone interesting doing something interesting or at least experiencing something interesting.


this, although not knowing your story we can't say "start at the apple-cart on Sunday morning" and give you a specific.

quicklime
02-26-2013, 06:29 PM
um, thanks, that's already verified and established -- see my 1 to 4. but i appreciate your chipping in ;)


yeah....just so you know, this sort of thing isn't helpful.

Seun gave you an ugly truth, but he was kind enough to give you a truth instead of a platitude. It has to start someplace interesting, but you also gotta take the wheel--we can offer suggestions, given some CLUE (which you haven't shared) what the story is about, but even then, you kinda gotta take the reins. Sorry if that doesn't seem helpful, but it is pretty much what everyone in-thread is saying, and none of them are colluding to make your life difficult.

Jamesaritchie
02-26-2013, 06:44 PM
I don't really think of it in complicated terms, and I hate lists of what to do and how to do it. Short story or novel, I drop what I hope is an interesting character into an interesting situation, and let him work his way out of it.

In media res or no in media res, character and story need to be there immediately, or why would anyone keep reading?

zarada
02-26-2013, 08:56 PM
this, although not knowing your story we can't say "start at the apple-cart on Sunday morning" and give you a specific.

might as well ask you to write the story for me, huh?

zarada
02-26-2013, 09:00 PM
yeah....just so you know, this sort of thing isn't helpful.

Seun gave you an ugly truth, but he was kind enough to give you a truth instead of a platitude. It has to start someplace interesting, but you also gotta take the wheel--we can offer suggestions, given some CLUE (which you haven't shared) what the story is about, but even then, you kinda gotta take the reins. Sorry if that doesn't seem helpful, but it is pretty much what everyone in-thread is saying, and none of them are colluding to make your life difficult.

actually, platitudes (say, like 'taking the wheel') can often be of value.

have i by chance passed you on the right on I-75 a couple hours ago?

quicklime
02-26-2013, 09:03 PM
might as well ask you to write the story for me, huh?


ok, my general policy is something like this: Everyone has an off day, it usually takes at least two instances of prickishness before I'm out. That said, you have three already:

the one quoted on top

"um, thanks, that's already verified and established -- see my 1 to 4. but i appreciate your chipping in"

"heehee. i'm afraid this would take more of your and my time than we can spare right now. you'll just have to trust me "


I'm entirely expendable, there's lots of good folks on this board. But I also doubt I'm the only one who does this.....if you're looking for advice, dissing the folks who take their time to give it isn't the greatest way to get it. And the sad fact is this is where a LOT of too-clever-by-half new writers fail, because they don't deal well with finding out, just maybe, they aren't the smartest kid in the class any longer. You came seeking help, but you're gonna severely limit the help you ever get.

Best of luck,
Quick

Bufty
02-26-2013, 09:04 PM
You did say you were 'absolutely lost as to where to start'.

You're being given sound advice, friend.

'Thank you' is the recommended response.


might as well ask you to write the story for me, huh?

zarada
02-26-2013, 09:12 PM
whoa. who's dissing? what just happened here, and where's all this hurt coming from?

i thought we were discussing 'biginnings'. certainly did not expect anyone to actually rewrite the bloody thing for me. not looking for specifics, here.

i ABSOLUTELY appreciate everyone's input and in the next days plan to digest each and every idea and test it out for my story. but it's my story, and i will decide which way to go in the end. it is not yet ready for disecting.

zarada
02-26-2013, 09:16 PM
You did say you were 'absolutely lost as to where to start'.

You're being given sound advice, friend.

'Thank you' is the recommended response.

bufty, FYI I have already thanked every contributor via appreciatioon points. the public thankyou was to follow, just as I disscovered the last three posts. which kinda ruined the whole damn thing for a bit.

i graciously thank everyone publicly, thank you very much for your time and your interest, it is truly appreciated. just about everyone posting has listed invaluable ideas here that may be useful to others as well as myself.

dchisholm125
02-26-2013, 09:21 PM
What do you mean by whammies? I mean, this is a movie reference because I don't read/speak spanish, but Pan's Labyrinth starts off with a girl dying on the ground and it's a pretty great movie! That seems like a whammy, but it doesn't make the movie suffer.

I do agree wih the foreshadowing, in part, but there's no need to spill out all the plot in the beginning.

It doesn't have to be important to the MC, it should be important to the STORY.

zarada
02-26-2013, 09:29 PM
What do you mean by whammies? I mean, this is a movie reference because I don't read/speak spanish, but Pan's Labyrinth starts off with a girl dying on the ground and it's a pretty great movie! That seems like a whammy, but it doesn't make the movie suffer.



film is a different medium altogether, so no comparison there.

i suppose an action novel could be started off with a whammy, so it really does depend on the genre. mine is not exactly an action thriller though.

thanks for the post!

Mr Flibble
02-26-2013, 09:31 PM
not looking for specifics, here.

What are you looking for then? You've got some good answers, but you say, for instance, mine will make it predictable - but won't say why, or give US any specifics to work with. All we can give is generalities that may or may not work. If you could tell us say, why X won't work, perhaps we could help more. As it is, you're coming off as 'Oh So Mysterious'*, which gets old, quick, especially when you've seen as often as many of the posters here have.


*a subset of 'My story is so unique I can't possibly tell you about it, in case you steal it'


i ABSOLUTELY appreciate everyone's input and in the next days plan to digest each and every idea and test it out for my story.

Good idea. Th, if you aren't prepared to give us at least one little thing to go on (genre perhaps? I mean, something would be helpful here other than 'a story') then I'd suggest just writing the story and go back to the beginning when you know the end. The right start might leap out at you.


but it's my story, and i will decide which way to go in the end.

Nobody has suggested otherwise. You asked for help, we're trying, but you're making very heavy weather of it.

zarada
02-26-2013, 09:46 PM
... As it is, you're coming off as 'Oh So Mysterious'*, which gets old, quick, especially when you've seen as often as many of the posters here have.

*a subset of 'My story is so unique I can't possibly tell you about it, in case you steal it'


oh, go on . contrary to what seems to be the current rumormill... i ain't miss precious. no i don't think anyone's out to steal my story!:ROFL:



...if you aren't prepared to give us at least one little thing to go on (genre perhaps? I mean, something would be helpful here other than 'a story') ...


all right, it's literary (hears doors slamming shut).
more later.

Mr Flibble
02-26-2013, 09:49 PM
Glad to hear it - but thing is we've seen a lot of those, and we get a bit jaded so when you act all mysterious....you see where I'm going with this? What would it hurt to give us something to go on? In order to actually answer the question? I'm pretty sure the world won't end or anything. But not giving us anything to go on? You won;t get much in the way of answers except stuff so general it probably won't help much.

Right, so literary. It's a start. So, now - why is starting just before the point when the MC's life changes not going to work (I read a fair bit of literary myself, and while they don't often start with explosions and fireworks, they DO most often start with change. So, why can't yours?)

kkbe
02-26-2013, 10:00 PM
Does it matter what the genre/focus group/blah blah is? I tend to start right in the middle of something *happening*. No set up. The reader is instantly immersed in the story. Then my job is to keep them sufficiently engaged.

People read fiction because they want to get lost for a little while, or because they want to be entertained. The quicker you can accomplish either, or both, the better. Why beat around the bush? You have a story to tell, right? Get on with it.

Mr Flibble
02-26-2013, 10:15 PM
Well it could make a difference yes - a romance would probably have led me to give slightly different advice than a literary story. Makes it a touch more specific rather than just generalities

Manuel Royal
02-26-2013, 10:16 PM
Every story should start with this:
A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment.

I often start in the middle, then work out the beginning.

zarada
02-26-2013, 10:19 PM
Right, so literary. It's a start. So, now - why is starting just before the point when the MC's life changes not going to work (I read a fair bit of literary myself, and while they don't often start with explosions and fireworks, they DO most often start with change. So, why can't yours?)


well, the reason it's not that simple, is because i have this idea now to add other timelines. i haven't decided on all of them, but --

in timeline 'a' we have the MC making his/her escape (still deciding on the 'new' sex) from a 1984 type society, with the intent of reaching what he/she believes to be a utopia type spciety.

in timeline 'b' an alter ego of the MC exists in a pastoral druid like society some 2000 years earlier, at the same location as the MC in timeline 'a'. this MC is fighting to stave off the invading hordes and save his people's culture and very existence.

MC in timeline 'a' reaches utopialand only to soon see it become another 1984

MC in timeline 'b' loses the fight and his world is burried in the sands of time.

after a major catastrophe the MC in timeline 'a' escapes from his new 1984 society that would have been a utopia, and returns to the dreges of what was his birthplace. somehow he gets connected with his alter ego from 2000 years back and finally discovers his true essence, etc, etc...

in a nutshell :)

JustSarah
02-26-2013, 10:20 PM
Right around the 4/4th's mark and continuously writing as the dominoes fall.

Mr Flibble
02-26-2013, 10:26 PM
well, the reason it's not that simple, is because i have this idea now to add other timelines. i haven't decided on all of them, but --

in timeline 'a' we have the MC making his/her escape
No, it's perfectly simple - you have change right from the off in your summary. Your MC is escaping. Change. So start with perhaps the incident that directly leads to them wanting to/being able to escape. Use it to show what they are escaping from.

zarada
02-26-2013, 10:35 PM
No, it's perfectly simple - you have change right from the off in your summary. Your MC is escaping. Change. So start with perhaps the incident that directly leads to them wanting to/being able to escape. Use it to show what they are escaping from.

true, i could do that. this is how i had the original version. i thought i might do something different. will give it some more thought.

thanks!

Mr Flibble
02-26-2013, 10:51 PM
If you want to do something different, where else does the change come? (You might have to alter your timeline...)

Thing is, you say you want conflict in your opener, and yes you do. Change is a very good way to get it. The status quo is all very well, but ho hum no conflict, hence why change is a good place to start. It doesn't have to be earth shattering.

zarada
02-26-2013, 10:51 PM
i think i figured it out!

i will finish writing the segments as stand alone stories. will decide at the end how to mesh them together and which one goes to make chapter one.

thanks everyone for helping me work it out.

zarada
02-26-2013, 10:54 PM
If you want to do something different, where else does the change come? (You might have to alter your timeline...)



there is change in every segment:

the escape from 1984-a
the anihilation of pastoral-b
the transformation of utopia-a
the catastrophe
the second escape from utopia-1984

Samsonet
02-26-2013, 11:01 PM
...would this be a good time to ask for advice on beginnings as a whole? Pet peeves, tips, stuff like that. Or is there a thread for that already -- if so, can someone point me to it?

Thank you

seun
02-26-2013, 11:16 PM
...would this be a good time to ask for advice on beginnings as a whole? Pet peeves, tips, stuff like that. Or is there a thread for that already -- if so, can someone point me to it?

Thank you

Have a look here for a good start. Links 13, 17 and 18 should be helpful. :)

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=8754

Samsonet
02-27-2013, 12:49 AM
^Thank you! I love this forum; you people are so nice to newbies like me. :)

seun
02-27-2013, 01:21 PM
^Thank you! I love this forum; you people are so nice to newbies like me. :)

I'm not usually. You caught me on a good day. :evil

bearilou
02-27-2013, 03:28 PM
I'm not usually. You caught me on a good day. :evil

Actually, it's his cat. seun is his sockpuppet.

JustSarah
03-03-2013, 08:43 AM
Oh by the way, I still write up to the point the dominoes fall, I just don't publish anything before that point.

Hamilton
03-03-2013, 10:53 AM
Here's my quick-and-easy-opening formula.


Find your inciting incident. The point where the big, major change takes place that really sets the story into high gear.
Determine what's necessary to reach that point. It may be a little, in may be quite a bit.
Determine what needs to be set up so that we can appreciate that point. Do we need to know about the MC's poor relationship with their parents? How a specific magical power works? The basics of a culture's social structure?
Construct an intro-conflict designed to lead into the inciting incident while providing all the information we need.



Take Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The first chapter is really more of a prologue, so let's talk about the second one. In this chapter, Harry Potter goes on a trip to the zoo, talks to the snake, and makes glass magically disappear. This chapter serves as an introduction to Harry and his situation, but does so through the use of an intro-conflict: Harry is trying to enjoy a rare trip to the zoo without getting mistreated by Dudley. This chapter could easily have been replaced with any other series of events, as long as they introduced Harry, his magic, the Dursleys, and had a conflict.

SeaSerpent
03-03-2013, 02:38 PM
Hi there. Working out the right place to start can be tricky. It's so easy to write your weay into a story, getting to know your characters as you go, but very often you need to bin those early chapters and cut to the chase - work out where the story really starts.

This is the defining moment - the point of change. Is there a specific event that changes everything - that sets you character off on their journey? The moment their life changes for ever.

Identify that moment and that is your opening.

Hope this helps.

JustSarah
03-04-2013, 02:36 AM
Like I said, still write those early chapter so you know specifically what the starting inciting incident is to use. If I don't know what happens before, how am I suppose to know what the inciding incident is to use? Oh right, I don't.