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HOW TO START A STORY

March 24, 2021

            You might be surprised how much this question comes up on the writing forums.

            “I’ve always wanted to write but I don’t know how to start the story.”

            Some people have a great idea for a story, but don’t have any idea how to start.

            Uh…okay. Let’s take it from the ground up.

BACK IN THE DAY

            Long ago, in a galaxy far far away…

            Well, not quite, but back in the day, when I was just an avid reader, around the time I made my first attempt with that disastrous Star Trek satire, written on a Royal typewriter, I think back on browsing the books at the Stars And Stripes bookstore at Torrejon Air Base in Spain. Even then, my creative mind was itching to take a try at writing something. Like so many others, I had no idea where to start, and that Star Trek attempt proved it.

            A big issue was that at the time, I may have had a mild urge to create my own stories, but not only did I not know where to start, I had no idea where I wanted to end either! I had no plan. No A and no B, no title, no plan at all. I just had an urge to write.

            Not much of a plan, and with almost zero skills, or idea what to do, I stuck with music, with which I was actually making money at the time. It was a lucrative side job.

            When I think back on those times, I can relate to the modern writers, starting out, full of ideas or “idea,” but not fully formed.

THE IDEA OF A AND B

            Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, it’s critical that you have a plan before you ever start writing. To do otherwise is inviting disaster.

            That’s the basic idea of A and B.

            A is the beginning.

            B is the ending.

            Plus, if it were me, I’d have the title as well.

            When a writer asks the question, where do I start, I have to ask, why are you even asking that if you haven’t even thought this whole thing out yet?

The young grasshopper hasn’t figured out their master plan. For instance, whether they’re going to start from A and write to B, or if they’re going to start from A and plot out every detail to B or some variation thereof. None of that matters if they don’t have an A and a B in the first place! If there’s no master plan, there’s no start.

            So, to give an example, you have the great idea. Of that I’m making a big assumption. This great idea includes a killer of an ending and premise, but you don’t know how to start.

            Let me say right off before we go any further, if you just have a vague idea of something in mind, STOP! DO NOT CROSS GO. DO NOT COLLECT $200. You should NEVER start a story with only a vague idea of what you want to write about.

            Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, you need to have the big idea and the plot laid out before you start. It’s not going to write itself for you and surprise you. It’s not going to magically evolve from nothing. You have to know where you’re heading before you start. You have to know what B is or you’re going to have a directionless mess. The purpose of this is to help you start, so you can get to B, WHICH YOU SHOULD ALREADY KNOW.

HOW TO START THE STORY

            The plot of your story is the butler did it.

            This example is a detective story. It could be anything, but I decided on the good old butler for simplicity.

            There are several ways to start.

            Right off, it’s always best to start with an action scene, so every example is going to be with some form of action. NOT BACKSTORY.

            #1 The murder. The heiress walks into the room and someone sneaks up behind her and clubs her over the head with a candlestick. She slumps to the floor. A few minutes later, someone finds her, the police are called.

            #2 A few days before the murder. The heiress is having tea with friends and the butler serves everyone. She’s a bit snippy with him, but he’s polite and lets it roll of his shoulders. The exchange is noticed by the guests in the room, especially the niece.

            #3 After the murder. The story starts with the detective examining the murder scene. She looks for clues and from then on, learns facts and any backstory comes out through interviews with the suspects.

            #4 Maid discovers the body. A maid walks into the room and discovers the body. She has a fit, calls in the butler, and in all the hoopla, ends up being the one that calls the police. During all this, you drop in a few things that will later make it look like either one of them could be the suspect.

            #5 The day of the murder. There’s a party at the house. Everything seems hunky dory, except there’s an argument between the victim and several guests, NOT involving the butler. However, one of those guests turns out to be the butler’s lover, thus the reason for the murder.

            #6 The funeral. The detective attends the funeral and starts observing all the staff and how they react. As they all leave, the detective watches where they go, then his or her gut determines who to follow. It’s the wrong person, of course, the first of many false leads, which eventually lead to the butler.

            These examples can be adapted to any genre of story. All it takes is a little imagination.

SUMMARY

            B and the title should already have been set before you ever thought of A. Now where to start? There are many ways, as I just outlined.

            No matter what your story might be, getting started is just a matter of choosing something to HAPPEN. DO NOT START WITH BACKSTORY!

            The story has to start someplace and the last thing you want to do is drag it down with backstory. That’s one reason prologues are going out of favor, though there are still plenty of them around. They’re not exactly illegal, but what I do instead is just make the prologue Chapter 1 with a date as a subtitle. Then, Chapter 2 is subtitled “present day.” That is, IF I don’t want to start the story in present day to begin with. That’s the extent of my backstory unless I want to leak in SMALL DOSES here and there so as to not bog down the action.

            My fantasy stories have no prologues while my adventure/thrillers and icky bugs do, but as I said, the prologues are now modified to Chapter 1 with subtitles. They’re also action oriented so they don’t feel like a narrative drag.

            So, there you have it. There are a multitude of ways to start a story.

            Happy writing!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2021 3:20 am

    What a great resource! I myself am all right with starting a story, but it’s the saggy middle that gets me all the time. Loved this post. Thanks for sharing!

    • March 25, 2021 1:18 am

      Stuart,

      Thanks so much for the kind words! Glad I can be of some help. So far, I’ve never had any issues in the middle with any of my stories. Since I always write linear, with B in mind, for me at least, it all just seems to flow toward that point. There was a time long ago, when I strayed on a few tangents. However, I learned hard lessons that they were a waste of time and didn’t add anything to the plot. These tangents ended up in the trash bin on the first edit. In fact, I may revisit tangents as I think I addressed them once already a long time ago. I’ll have to check the archives. All the best!

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