Where Does a Good Story Start?

Writing is a very nauseating experience, like eating a can of heavily irradiated tuna. Most new writers haven’t developed that leaden stomach lining yet, so when they see a blank page they get sick and tend to vomit buckets of useless information all over it.

Something is better than nothing, I suppose, but there is a much better way to go about writing the beginning of your story.

Start with a Scene

Think of your favorite movie or video game. Every single one starts with a character (usually the protagonist) in a rich, immersive setting doing something interesting. The first scene has an introduction, a rising action, a climactic moment, and a resolution; it’s like it’s own mini-movie.

Does it have to be relevant to the rest of the plot?

Absolutely not.

As an example, take Casino Royale (the James Bond film). In the beginning, there is a huge crowd in a slummy part of Madagascar. The crowd is uproarious as they watch a cobra and a mongoose fight to the death. While all of this is going on, Bond is sneaking through a crowd, trying to catch up to his unsuspecting target. There is a mistake, the target sees Bond, and the chase is on.Of course, we now get to watch Bond display his physical prowess, but more importantly we also see him outsmart his enemies.

The opening scene sucks us into the world of 007. We see almost everything that is unique, visceral, and real about the world, and it’s amazing to watch unfold. On top of that, we learn mountains about Bond’s character (ruthless, quick-thinking, and bad ass).

Casino Royale is an action film first. Your story does not need to start out with this much high-octane, roof-jumping madness. But it does need to show the reader how immersive your world is, and how interesting your character is.

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Action Film, get it? He gets a lot of action? AHHHH!

Before the First Turning Point

Most stories have several turning points, or important situational changes. These turning points are usually spread out evenly, to give the reader enough time to adjust, to allow the characters to worry or gloat over their fortunes, and just because it makes a more interesting story.

You want to keep this in mind when starting your story. You don’t want to start too close to the first turning point, because then your readers haven’t had the time to appraise your characters, or to become familiar with the world. And if you start too early, your reader will get bored.

And boredom is worse than radiation sickness.

Outlines, even short, single-page outlines can save you from having to cut out volumes of writing. Try to figure out your major plot points ahead of time, and at least your first turning point before you start the story.

In Media Res

In media res means your story starts “in the middle”. This one is tricky to handle, as it often requires convoluted narratives or extensive flashbacks. It’s hard to keep this kind of story from becoming a spiderweb of plot points and changes and everything.

However, in media res can inject a sense of immediacy to every story, as well as shrouding the tale in mystery. If you want to see how other authors do it, try reading something from this list, like Life of Pi by Yann Martell, or Wool Omnibus, by Hugh Howey.

Or, if your ‘to-read’ list is already longer than an epic fantasy novel, I recommend this movie: 513005ba58d3390ec4d17a355167a7360fc7f3c8

One last piece of advice:

Do not (do NOT) start your story with a character just waking up, or dreaming, or regaining consciousness (unless you have an invincible reason for this).

How does your favorite story start? Why did you find it so immersive?

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