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JUST START THE STORY WHERE IT BEGINS

December 29, 2021

            I’ve covered this subject countless times via prologues and flashbacks. It’s nothing new.

            So, why bring it up again?

            Not only does the question keep coming up on the forums, but it did most recently in my personal life, and no, it wasn’t me specifically. Let’s get that off the table right away.

            That brings up my main point.

            The original title was “Just start the damn story where it begins.”

            To be less blunt, I edited it down to “Just start the story where it begins.”

JERKING THE AUDIENCE AROUND

            As I have pointed out numerous times, and continue to do so, a popular plot device used in movies and TV is the flashback. They’ll start with the present day, then do a flashback to “six days ago” or “six months ago” or something.

            In a book the story might start with the much maligned “Prologue.” It may have a subtitle with a date or a “six days ago” or some such thing. Or…the author may use flashbacks to fill in the blanks.

            What this does is jerk the audience around. It disturbs the continuity of the story.

            While this seems to be a popular trend for a crowd that gets bored easily, or so everyone thinks, what about just telling the story in a linear fashion?

TELL THE STORY AS IT HAPPENED

            Here’s a novel (ha ha) idea.

            How about telling the story as it happened?

            How about telling the story from A to Z?

            How about depicting events without jerking the reader around, like starting with Chapter 1 and ending with Chapter Whatever?

CHARACTER BACKGROUND IS NOT THE SAME AS STORY BACKGROUND

            The plot background, in other words, the story, is not the same as character background.

            Let’s make this clear.

            So in so is solving a murder mystery. They’re after the killer who murdered the butler. Why they’re acting the way they are toward the suspects or the way they investigate isn’t necessarily part of this, unless it’s actually the plot and the murder is secondary.

            In that case, maybe the story should start with how the character got to this point before the murder occurred. How about that?

            Keep it linear. Then you’re not jerking the reader around.

            If it’s part of a series, same thing. If the reader is familiar with the character, past character development should’ve already explained this stuff or if not, start there with this part of the story before delving into the murder part of the plot.

            Now, back to character background as color for the story.

            As part of the normal goings on, there’s nothing wrong with throwing in bits and pieces of background, which is a normal part of the narrative. However, bringing the plot to a screeching halt for scenes and chapters, especially long ones to flash back to the past throws continuity out the window. A paragraph or two sprinkled into the narrative doesn’t do this, or dialogue between the MC and another character as well. This can all be leaked out effectively without destroying the timeline.

THE SMOOTHER THE TIMELINE, THE EASIER THE READ

            While it’s no hard-set rule, the fact is that the more linear the story, the easier the read. For some individuals, this may scream boredom, but for most, it spells more enjoyment. Among other things, it means there are more chances the writing will not get in the way of the story. Before you know it, you’ve finished the book, hopefully with a smile on your face. That’s the goal of every author.

            Jerking the reader around may work for some, but for many, a linear story gets to the point better and faster.

SUMMARY

            I repeat my well-used mantra: nothing here is a hard-set rule. You, as a writer and/or author, can do what you want. You may be bristling with ideas and want to get them out, in the easiest and most unimpeded fashion possible. This may be without rules or any restrictions. Go for it.

            What you may end up with is a huge mess, a hit, a no-seller, pure torture to read, or a pure pleasure to read.

            It’s up to you.

            Happy writing!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2021 3:22 am

    Totally agreed that there’s no set way to write, and it’s all up to us. Writing is a creative endeavour after all. I do believe that certain guidelines should be followed, but at the end of the day, it’s really our choice. Thanks for this post!

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