Friday, October 24, 2014

Where To Start: Shan's thoughts

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Happy Friday, friends! When I was mulling over what to write about today, I noticed that both Steph and Jill have addressed story openings lately. Steph did it in her post on prologues and Jill did it just the other day with her article on making your openings intriguing.

I thought I'd add my voice to the conversation as well. Or, rather, I thought I'd steal Kurt Vonnegut's words and give you my thoughts. Here's what he has to say:



This certainly isn't a new concept. Not by any stretch of the imagination, but until recently I hadn't seen it written out in so simple a way. It's given me a lot to think about. Namely, backstory.

Here's what Stephen King says about backstory:


When you start your novel as near to the end as you possibly can, you're doing yourself a favor with all that backstory you've developed. You've just made it interesting. Think about what Suzanne Collins did in The Hunger Games.

Peeta and Katniss have a history, don't they? But Collins didn't start the story on the day Peeta tossed Katniss a burnt piece of bread. She left it as a juicy bit of backstory we don't mind her taking the time to explain later. It reveals something about Peeta's character and gives us compassion for Katniss, a girl who'd rather keep everyone at a distance.

By starting the story on reaping day, Collins places us smack dab in the middle of the action, and when the time is right, she lets Katniss tell the reader all about the time the boy with the blond eyelashes saved her life.

She doesn't dump it on us. In fact, she doesn't bring it up at all until Katniss sees Peeta at the sorting. The unveiling of the information is organic and I like that. In reality, she's stopping the story to tell us a bit of history, but we don't even notice because of the action happening all around. It's masterful.

This technique, when done well, can actually be hard to spot. All we know, as a reader, is that the story has started just where it should have.

Have you been told your story opening is slow? Could it be you're starting it just a little too early? What happens to your tale when you bump that beginning closer to the end?

24 comments:

  1. One of my 2 current WIP's...I don't know how that would work out. It's basically on a day when they get "tested" and then have to go through strenuous training, to be in basically 3017's army. Yes, this story takes place in the year 3017 XD. the other one: I start about a paragraph before the inciting incident (I think I'm thinking if the right thing), so I think I start at the right place there. Same with my WIP that I just finished the first draft of.

    Thank you for this post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome! And 3017! WOW! I wonder if we'll have hover boards by then.

      Delete
  2. I know I'm going to have to go back and tighten things up in my second draft. Thanks for this great info, Mrs. Dittemore!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's what second drafts are for, Linea! And you are welcome!

      Delete
  3. I've had a story where I've written the whole first six chapters maybe, and on a writing prompt I skipped into the middle of the story to write a scene, and someone told me that was where the story started. So, that whole first half of the book is gone and I have to say that the book is much more structured and focused now. It does work, if you can bear the excruciating process of cutting out the former beginning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I LOVE cutting huge chunks of stuff. It makes me feel so POWERFUL. Good for you. Hacking isn't something to be afraid of.

      Delete
  4. Great post! I'm starting a WIP (The Assassin's Mercy) in which I jump right into the action, and the inciting incident takes place right on. Dorlin is in middle of a mission when he is ambushed, and meets a strange man who claims to be his uncle. This man claims that the Emperor killed his mother and urges him to take revenge. That is what starts the story, and it takes place in chapter one. Thanks again for the post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, in case anyone wanted to picture me in there heads, I'm twelve. Going on thirteen. Thanks!

      Delete
    2. Do you know something, Jonathan and Jessica? I so remember being in your boat. :) I have just turned fourteen, a month ago.

      Delete
    3. Oh my gosh your story sounds so awesome! I would totally read that.

      Delete
  5. I LOVE Kurt's advice. I've never heard it that succinctly put either, but wow. That's a statement I'm going to hold onto. I find when I'm critiquing and the story says anything about time passing, I start to get bored. "The next day..." "An hour later..." Power stories are all about what's happening right now, eh?

    Unleashing the Dreamworld

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. His advice clears things up, huh? Makes it understandable.

      Delete
  6. Uh... As far as I can tell my story starts at a good place. Immediately after the first incident you get dropped into the inciting incident.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's pretty cool! Especially because I read your first lines, and they're awesome!

      Delete
  7. This is something I've contemplated lately, since I know the first few chapters of my WIP drag on for too long. One of my critique partners and I have been scheming better places to start it, later in the story. Thanks for the reminder, Shannon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that you have a critique partner! Feeback is so important!

      Delete
    2. Definitely! My writing is much better because of good feedback.

      Delete
  8. Great post! Earlier this week I was wondering if I should start the novel I’m plotting earlier, since my MC has so much of a Past, but now I feel confident in my choice to reveal the backstory through flashbacks. I think starting later leaves more questions.

    I love how you give the reader questions in Chapter 1 of Angel Eyes. I only read what was available on Amazon’s look-inside, but already I’m hooked, especially since it isn’t the type of angel story that doesn’t sit right with me religiously speaking. *adds to ever-growing book wish list*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Flashbacks can be good. They are a fabulous tool in the author's hand. Like anything else though, you don't want to wield them all the time. Save them for the important stuff.

      Delete
  9. It's a hard one! I've been thinking about this when I started with my new project. I wanted a symbolic amount of time, either 40 years or 40 days (I even have been thinking about 120 years). But yeah, 40 years is a pretty long time and 40 days was a bit too short for what I wanted to write. So I decided to make a kind of compromise and let it start about one year before the end of the story. But let's just say beginnings aren't my favorite thing so far ;-)

    arendedewit.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know what you're writing, but I wouldn't worry about being symbolic about when you begin your story. You can still be symbolic about time passing and such, but that can be accomplished in so many ways. Start your story as close the action as possible

      Delete

Home