A Place of Safety
I expect simple behaviours here. Friendship, and love.
Any advice should be from the perspective of the person asking, not the person giving!
We have had to make new membership moderated to combat the huge number of spammers who register















You are here: Home > Forum > A Place of Safety > Literary Merit > Where do you begin a story?
Where do you begin a story?  [message #75561] Thu, 21 February 2019 21:52 Go to next message
Teddy is currently offline  Teddy   United States

Likes it here
Location: USA
Registered: October 2006
Messages: 151



http://forum.iomfats.org/?t=getfile&id=5057&private=0
A creative writing teacher I had was quite strict on this question.

"Always begin a story in the spot where things begin to go bad," she said, "then fill in historical details from there as the story progresses." 

In fact she was so set on this notion that she would downgrade fiction pieces that did not follow this rule. I always thought she had control issues. So did many others in the class. 

So what do you, authors and readers alike, think? Is there a beginning point that appeals to you more than others?



“There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is.” - Terry Pratchett
Re: Where do you begin a story?  [message #75562 is a reply to message #75561] Thu, 21 February 2019 22:08 Go to previous messageGo to next message
American_Alex   United States

Toe is in the water
Location: New York, upstate
Registered: October 2017
Messages: 48



This just proves the old addage:
"Those who can't, teach".

I took a course in English literature as a freshman in college many, many years ago. We read a short story by a 'recognizeable author' of the period, and we discusses what certain passages meant. The professor took a distinctly sexual connection to one comment in the book, but I felt the autor was referring to lost youth, which she adamantly disagreed with. A year later, the author (by then an elderly lady) came to my college for a reading, and I attended it. During the reception afterwards, I asked the author about this same passage, while my previous professor was standing nearby, and she essentially confirmed my interpretation. So, yeah, English professors often let their issues cloud their opinions.

BTW, Kurt Vonnegut used this system quite a bit in different chapters, especially in the book Sirens of Titan. Almost every chapter, a new character was introduced, and each was invariably in the middle of an argument.



"Able was I ere I saw Elba"
Re: Where do you begin a story?  [message #75563 is a reply to message #75561] Thu, 21 February 2019 22:23 Go to previous messageGo to next message
joecasey is currently offline  joecasey   United States

Getting started
Location: American Midwest
Registered: December 2017
Messages: 13



Interesting theory ... not sure about the "always" part, but I can see her point; why burden the reader at the very first with background info that is - more often than not - unnecessary? I try to jump into the middle of any story I write; it may not be where things go bad, but it's often the point where the main character's life is about to get interesting.
Re: Where do you begin a story?  [message #75564 is a reply to message #75561] Thu, 21 February 2019 22:31 Go to previous messageGo to next message
timmy   United Kingdom

Has no life at all
Location: UK, in Devon
Registered: February 2003
Messages: 13108



I think that is a great place to start unless one has real inspiration.

Let me try different words: Those who are short of inspiration will find the a great idea

Or: If you are trying to teach someone who normally writes Wikipedia articles then this would sort of work, maybe, sometimes.

I hold to a different view. A story starts precisely where it starts. Now that does not help yet. What I mean is that we are meeting a cast of heroes, perhaps villains. We need to get to know at least one of them reasonably quickly, so the piece should start at a point where they are at a place where they can demonstrate some facets of their character to us, and set the scene.

Here's the start of one of mine:

Quote:
We're on holiday. We're in a weird place in North Wales, and I don't like it much. We used to go to Tenby, but Father decided he wanted a change, so we tossed up between Barmouth and Pwllheli. Why we chose the unpronounceable one I've no idea, but we did.


Is that:
  • Where things begin to go bad?
  • Where things begin?

I can't judge if it's a good story. You may be able to

Here's one of Nick Brady's:
Quote:
It was a bright September day when I first noticed him. I had seen him walking along tapping the ground with his long white cane when I was on campus, but here he was sitting at a table in the boarding house where I ate lunch every day. He was a nice-looking young guy, intent on checking out the items on the table, asking the person next to him what was in the bowl and carefully scooping some onto his plate. He kept checking the amount and location with a piece of bread as he homed in on his lunch. It seemed odd that he never looked down at his plate then I recalled that he was blind. His fingers did the looking.


Anything start to go bad in it?

Yup, nothing. Exactly. And I know this is a good story. Looks to me as if Nick has started at the beginning

What do we say in the Writing Masterclass?

No rules, just examples. Some good, some less good. One of mine that is, to my mind, truly poor.

My advice, insofar is it is worth anything, is to start at a place of interest, probably already in the middle of a continuing piece of worthwhile action. You have to grab me and make me read on.



Author of Queer Me! Halfway Between Flying and Crying - the true story of life for a gay boy in the Swinging Sixties in a British all male Public School
Re: Where do you begin a story?  [message #75565 is a reply to message #75564] Thu, 21 February 2019 23:02 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Geron Kees is currently offline  Geron Kees   

Toe is in the water
Location: USA
Registered: February 2016
Messages: 53



I tend to agree with what Tim says. A story begins where it begins. 

I have actually had an opening line or idea that I liked, and written a story around it. Or an ending line or idea, and written a story leading up to it. But mostly I get a story idea, and begin the tale where it feels like the story needs to begin. The idea that all stories need to begin where things start to go bad is ridiculous, unless that's the basis for the story itself. Something bad happens, and the rest of the story is about fixing it or living with it. 

But plenty of stories do not have things go badly at all; or if they do, it comes later. Determining the flow of a story - at least for me - happens as it is being written. It can feel right to start off with something dramatically wrong, or it can feel right for everything to be cool at the start, and go bad later. It comes down to the story you are telling, and the way you want to tell it. Every teller of tales does this differently, and that's the way it should be.

No one should ever tell you how your story needs to be told. That's why, in ages past, the teller of tales around the nightly fire spoke, and everyone else listened. They could discuss the tale to death after; but in the telling, it belonged solely to the teller, and no one else.
Re: Where do you begin a story?  [message #75566 is a reply to message #75564] Thu, 21 February 2019 23:09 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Teddy is currently offline  Teddy   United States

Likes it here
Location: USA
Registered: October 2006
Messages: 151



I agreed with the instructor only to the point that the beginning isn't always the best place to start a tale, but sometimes it might be. Sometimes you might even want to start near the end, but to start it in the place where things start to go bad? What if the story is a happy story? There is no place where it goes bad?

This teacher wasn't much of a teacher but we had to please her in order to get a grade. The next year, which was my favorite year as far as my writing classes were concerned, the teacher made no such requirements. He only cared that in a literary sense the story accomplished the goal of capturing the reader's attention well, and keeping it. 

Looking at the stories I've written, some still unpublished, they seem to start at a point of change or challenge, though not necessarily where things seem to take a turn for the worse. 

[Updated on: Thu, 21 February 2019 23:15]




“There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is.” - Terry Pratchett
Re: Where do you begin a story?  [message #75567 is a reply to message #75565] Thu, 21 February 2019 23:56 Go to previous messageGo to next message
timmy   United Kingdom

Has no life at all
Location: UK, in Devon
Registered: February 2003
Messages: 13108



I may have to take a creative writing class!!  I wanna piss on someone's fireworks!

However, I may learn something I can use



Author of Queer Me! Halfway Between Flying and Crying - the true story of life for a gay boy in the Swinging Sixties in a British all male Public School
Re: Where do you begin a story?  [message #75568 is a reply to message #75567] Fri, 22 February 2019 02:24 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Teddy is currently offline  Teddy   United States

Likes it here
Location: USA
Registered: October 2006
Messages: 151



"timmy wrote on Thu, 21 February 2019 15:56"
I may have to take a creative writing class!!  I wanna piss on someone's fireworks!

However, I may learn something I can use

--For my part, I was a kid who didn't want to raise a stink and end up with a teacher pissed enough at me to give me a bad grade. Were it to happen today... Bring it on, Lady!!! LOL

So yeah, might be fun to take her class again! LOL



“There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is.” - Terry Pratchett
Re: Where do you begin a story?  [message #75571 is a reply to message #75561] Sat, 23 February 2019 14:24 Go to previous message
Mark   United States

Likes it here
Location: Earth
Registered: April 2013
Messages: 186



For me, I base it off of something that I seem to remember hearing years ago about starting the story in the middle of some interesting action that is occurring in order to "hook" the reader into keeping going (they keep reading so that they can find out just how the characters got into that specific sitation).  It doesn't have to be profound, and it certainly doesn't have to be "bad," just so long as it's picking up in the middle of something out of the ordinary (so no picking up in the middle of them waking up and going through their morning routine).

As an example, I used that in "An Apprentice's Adventures" - it starts out with the narrator being asked if he's ever been told that he's crazy.  What prompted that question?  Well, he's climbing on the outside of the palace with his cousin.  But why the heck are they doing that?!  Hopeefully, the reader keeps reading to get the brief "back story" on how the narrator is in the position he's in when the story picked up, and by then the reader is drawn into the story enough to want to keep reading to find out what else happens.
Previous Topic: Are You Scared yet?
Next Topic: Discretion is the...
Goto Forum: