Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How To Begin

Inspiration has struck:  You have a great idea for a story plot. Your characters are so real, they’ve become your family. Scenes swirl around in your head while you’re driving, cooking, and sleeping. And you’re irritated that life prevents you from simply sitting down and writing until you’re done. 

However, when you do finally sit down to write, you discover you have a dilemma:  How to begin.

Beginnings are difficult because the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page, are important. They carry a lot of weight. The beginning of a story is like romance:  If you want a second date, the wooing has to begin immediately.  

One way to begin is to ask three basic questions:  First, what response do you want from the reader?  Do you want to elicit an immediate emotional response? Do you want your reader to be intellectually intrigued? Do you want to ground your reader?  Or do you want to achieve a combination of these things?  Secondly, what will your beginning do?  Will it introduce a character or narrator? Or will it establish the conflict?  Will it create a scene?  Or will it draw the reader into many aspects of the story at once?  Thirdly, how do you want to start?  Do you want to begin with a description?  With immediate action? With an unusual plot pointl?  With dialogue? 

For example, I wanted to write about a recent accident my daughter had, so I considered the three questions.  First, I thought about starting with the phone call:  “Your daughter has been run over by a car.”  This would introduce the conflict with dialogue.  I then contemplated beginning at the end:  My daughter is alive, but for an hour we thought she was dead.  This would introduce the character with an unusual plot point to make readers curious.  Finally, I also wondered about starting with the accident:  They found her body five feet from the car which had hit her head-on at 35 mph, flipping her over onto its windshield before flinging her to the ground.  This would introduce the scene with a description about the beginning action.

As I considered the questions in conjunction with one another, all of these potential beginnings came to mind.  You may experience that same.  My advice:  Write them all and then decide which works best.

Paula Castner is a mother of three and a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative as well as a freelance writer, writing and baking workshop facilitator, and drama director. She receives emails at pajamalivingwriting@gmail.com.