Saturday, August 3, 2013

Where to Start Writing Tip 17/100

Again, thanks so much for the comments. It's nice to know I'm not just talking to myself. I teach lots of writing conferences and various classes where I can see and interact with my students, but I don't always no if I am connecting here. So, yay! Keep commenting.

Also, this is a great post about a really amazing MG writer talking about why he writes for middle grade and how to do it. I couldn't agree more with his all points.

A lot of the writing tips I give are mistakes beginning writers tend to make a lot. It's sort of funny when I start out with a class full of beginning writers and lay out a list like this up front. By the time I'm done, every head is hanging. Then I have to remind them that if everyone didn't start out doing these things, there would be no reason to teach about them. And every one of these things that you can learn now and fix in your work in progress is going to make it that much better.

So, next on the list is starting your story at the wrong place. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts how important it is not to start with a flashback, an infodump, or detailed descriptions of the scenery or weather. That's because according to at least one survey, by far the biggest reason people stop reading a book is because it's too boring.

Sometimes writers who understand this, try to address the problem by starting with some incredibly exciting event. A murder. An explosion. A kidnapping. That can work, but it can also feel forced. We talked about unearned emotions. Blowing up people you don't know or care about can have that effect.

You do want to keep your beginning exciting. But one of the best ways to do that is knowing where your story begins. Typically your story begins where something happens to either change the main character's life or force them into some sort of action.

Let's take Hunger Games as an example. The story begins when Katniss enters the Hunger Games. That moment changes her life. Yes, that's not what happened on page one. Not even chapter one. The author wisely let us see what the lottery was, the odds of being chosen, and the relationship Katniss had with her younger sister and Gale. But the story starts with Katniss waking up and knowing it is the day of the lottery. Everything that transpires from there is tied to the fact that "Today is the lottery. Today is the day that I might get chosen to go die."

In a character driven story, your story starts with something happening to make the MC's current life situation unacceptable. In an adventure, something has to happen to force the character on her adventure. In a mystery, a murder or other crime happens which must be solved. You can do a few other things first, especially if you use secondary conflict. But that's where your story begins and you must write with that in mind. The longer you make us wait for the beginning of the story, the more likely we will close the book and start something else.


Joseph Miller said...

Just read The Zombie Kid and decided to visit your website... little did I know I'd get some great writing tips out of it, but I thank you for them and will come back for the rest.

David Glenn said...

Hmm, good point. I'll need to think on that.

thomas petrucka said...

Johnny Tremain is a great book but has this quality of not getting really good until you get kinda far into it.