Where to begin…

My published MG started with a description of my MC’s life. Small humorous anecdotes. It fit the tone of the book- comic fantasy- but I could probably have begun with a more dynamic scene. Especially since my readership was 9-12 and they don’t like to wait around for the book to begin. Hmm, so where to start the story? I usually start at the beginning. No, I’m not really trying to be facetious. (Well perhaps a little).. To be clearer, I try to start at the beginning of the action or a life-changing event. Actually, just ahead of that point in time. Not in the thick of it, but just where the things that existed before, suddenly change. It can be quite a small occurrence (a word or deed), or it can be something cataclysmic (act of god, tsunami), it can grow and snowball, or lead to decisions which in turn lead to something else happening. One happening flows into another flows into another… I regard this moment (whatever it may be) as the event which starts things moving in the story that I want to tell. For instance in one of my YA manuscripts the MC is attacked by a pack of wild dogs. Things don’t get much better after that. (It’s a dystopia though so I was able to include many many disasters). We don’t know what’s going on at this point but the action moves forward at such a pace that it takes the reader with it. The YA I just completed begins with a feat of daring and that leads to an unwelcome revelation which sends the MC into an emotional tailspin. I modeled that one after life. Sometimes I like to amuse myself by thinking about how I got to where I am. The big and small decisions which affected my direction. High road, low road, you know. The book I’m working on right now has quite a lot of backstory. I could have started things earlier but finally I just stuck my MC on a bus and shipped her out of town against her will. This is less of a rocket blast of a beginning but I am able to develop her character relatively quickly and explain the events which have led up to this bus ride, setting up what happens next. Sometimes the conflict is internal rather than external. I usually have sign-post scenes worked out before I start to write. They stick out above the rest of the prose. I write from one to the other, like I’m crossing the floor by jumping from chair to chair. I don’t look too far ahead, just work out what goes between one sign post and the next one. This also gives me manageable writing goals. Like I give myself a week to get my MC from the bus to the insane asylum. And then the week after, move her to the coffee shop where the annoying boy works. Sometimes early on I’ll write a sentence or a bit of dialogue and it just directs the flow of the book so well that I decide to start there. That means that everything I’ve written up to that point now has to follow it or be discarded. There’s definitely a trick to weaving in necessary information and back story. There has to be just enough but not so much that things get bogged down. In the dystopia novel I had all this clever family detail worked out. I think there was a grandmother and like 12 kids. My MC was a loner type and I could have showed her at the breakfast table with her bangs hanging in front of her face, or sitting in a secluded corner in the library, but you know- ho hum. What kind of fun is that? To read. Or to write? Much better to throw a bunch of stuff at her and see how she deals with it. Will she cry? Freak out? Fight back? Isn’t it better to get to know her by her actions? By the choices she makes? I think about how I tell my 7 year-old a story. How long I have before he starts to wriggle and squirm and ask me totally unrelated questions. I think about that linear structure that goes both forwards and backwards in time, the small tangents, and how neat it is. How do you figure out just where to begin? Is there a perfect place? Does it suggest itself to you naturally or do you have to write towards it?

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6 Responses to Where to begin…

  1. Laina says:

    My WIP started with one particular action-y scene that inspired the whole project. Then I added… I think a chapter of other stuff that built up to it. In the second draft, I chopped off the first chapter right up to the action-y scene.

    But I apparently like to do things the hard way 😛

  2. Jo Treggiari says:

    Laina,
    Sounds like writing to me…
    Add some here, chop some there.
    It reminds me of trying to cut your own hair. Could be fabulous punk style or awful wear a hat for the rest of your life disaster, but at least with writing you can fix it and no one ever has to know.

  3. Donna Hosie says:

    LOL, I send my draft first chapter to you and you tell me where to begin!!

    I'm sure you already know this, but dystopian YA is really big news right now. It looks like you'll hit the market at the perfect time.

  4. Jo Treggiari says:

    Donna, you know and I know that you already knew (deep in your gut) where you should start your new book. I just helpfully pointed it out.
    I'm actually sort of freaked about how big dystopian YA has suddenly become. I didn't even know it existed as a sub genre when I started writing Lucky. My inspiration came from an issue of Rolling Stone magazine about global warming and an interview with Cormac McCarthy. Now I'm worried that my poor little adventure story will be submerged. I mean, James Patterson, has a dystopian YA coming out for Pete's sakes!

  5. Jay says:

    I started my MG at the beginning! Then I realized the beginning as I'd written it was technically a prologue followed by a whole pile of back story. So, I wound up cutting all of it until I started at the moment where things were about to change, like – right then and there.

    I read somewhere that the best place is start is where/when things change, so there you have it!

    And…. Jo, I've nominated you for an award on my blog, because I've been lax.

  6. Jo Treggiari says:

    Jay, see?! You know exactly what you're doing. Good for you! Carry on!