Where does your story begin?
I am not someone who sits in front of the blank page agonizing trying to think of things to write. My brain is an ADD thought processor on steroids, with more characters and story lines pumping per minute than I could possibly use. The challenge for me is knowing how to shape my unwieldy imagination into a form that is accessible to the reader, one that pulls them in, and keeps them in.
Frequently, in listening to editors giving feedback on my work, I hear similar content: I didn’t really connect with the character at first, or . . . I wasn’t sure where it was going. . . It started too slow. . .But I loved the middle scenes. The climax was great. I loved the characters, really gripping scene at the end.
It leads me to ask the question, where does a story start?
For me, the story starts as I write it. I don’t preplan a lot of my work, or stick to a strict outline. I know, I know. That would help. Believe me I’ve tried. But that’s like putting my crazy brain in a car seat on a slow moving train. Not conducive to the high that I expect with writing. I prefer hurtling through the universe with a jetpack on my back with an unreliable navigation system.
So, my writing can be a bit. . .explorative.
This leads me to the beauty of is samurai editing. As a samurai self-editor, when I finish a story, I return the beginning. Do I lop off the first paragraph? Perhaps the first three pages? Are they necessary to the reader, or just my personal warm up? When does the energy pick up? When does the reader feel the shift from: What is this about? To I need to know what happens to this character?
In my first draft fantasies, the readers are patient with me as I unwind my stories slowly, from a peaceful morning to a climatic afternoon. I can’t always see that a man drinking his coffee in the kitchen isn’t riveting stuff. That’s why I have frequent editors. I know what happens to that man in two pages, how important this peaceful last cup of coffee is. But, a good editor will point out, the reader doesn’t. So the coffee needs to be a quick one. Or to be served by the man’s wife, who is clearly unhinged and carries poison in her pocket. Aha, there’s the story.
Cut cut cut. That’s what often needs to happen with the first few pages. Find the bones of the story and bring it forth from the muck of introductions, musings, and setting a tone. All of that can happen fairly quickly or be woven in as you go. But if the story really starts on page three, start on page three.
Here’s a basic test. Look over one of your pieces: an essay, short story, novel chapter. If you started a paragraph later, what would you lose? If you jumped a page in, would the tension rise significantly? Be careful not to get too attached to the beginning of the story. Get attached to the story itself, and tell it well. Which means not beginning too soon.