STARTING A STORY
I’m a member of the Rayne’s Writers Research group which I think is a Yahoo group and I get lots of e-mails a week, most of which I just file a way for future reference. Some strike my interest while others I could care less about. One came up this morning, as I write this (Saturday) and it was a thread about never starting a story with the weather. Someone said it’s cliché.
I have my own theories about starting a story and I’ve covered them before while talking about the First Page Read from the conference. Then again, there’s never enough talking about starting stories, so I’ll continue here with another perspective, and probably rehash a bunch of what I’ve already said.
EVERYTHING IS A CLICHÉ
Let’s get the oilyfink in the room out of the way right off (by the way that’s elephant in Popeye speak). I was telling another guy in Absolute Write Water Cooler about his ghost story, that everything is already a cliché, while he was trying to avoid them. I said to just follow your muse and don’t worry about it. The same could be said for starting a story.
The big difference is don’t start with “It was a dark and stormy night.”
That’s just asking for trouble. Also it is passive and doesn’t start from a character’s point of view unless it’s first-person. That’s one cliché you don’t need.
Okay, agents will tell you they’re sick and tired of opening a story with weather, looking in a mirror, bla bla bla… those scream cliché. Oh, and don’t forget dialogue! Never start a story with dialogue! Oh, and how about a half dozen or more other things.
In other words, it’s literally (pun intended) impossible to start a story. “They” want you to find an impossible way to start your story because they’ve seen them all.
A great way to get inspired, right?
Say you find a unique and inventive way to do it, then what happens? Soon it will be tomorrow’s cliché!
Then, it’s back to the original clichés which now become new again.
START WITH A SPECIFIC CHARACTER AND ACTION
Don’t worry about clichés and start with action. Dive right into something happening. Don’t screw around with:
- Description. There’s nothing worse than boring the reader with describing the scene. Save that for later chapters or within the scenes.
- Back story. Do not start the story with back story! Start the story in the now. Begin with something happening and leak in the back story as the character is going along.
- Poems. If you’re going to have one, do it before the story starts. That way, if the reader (like me) isn’t into poetry, we/they can skip it and get right to the reading.
- Dialogue. Have to character do something and name him before he starts speaking. Make a setting so the reader knows where they are and why they are speaking. This does not mean a long description of the setting, but a very brief line about who, what, where, when and why before the talking starts. This plays a fine line between adequate description and too much. Blend it in with the character doing something.
GET THE STORY MOVING BEFORE BOGGING DOWN WITH DETAILS
The key is to get the story moving with an action scene before slowing down a bit with details. You need to get momentum then slowly leak in details, background, back story…whatever. Don’t slam the reader with it right out of the gate. You’ll lose them and any potential agent or publisher.
WHAT ABOUT THE CLICHÉS AGAIN?
Back to the old weather cliché that one guy was worried about. So what? If you start with the character fighting the weather, instead of describing it, that could work. Then again, you don’t want to have a character looking in a mirror. Maybe smashing a mirror, cursing at it, but not looking into it. As for dialogue, have the character perform some kind of action, then start the dialogue. There’s nothing wrong with that. By starting with dialogue, I meant as the first line.
Sometimes, you just have to feel it out, but be prepared to alter it if someone cries foul.