The Day That's Different

All my writer friends know how much I hate beginning a new story. It’s not that I’m not excited about the characters, their conflict, their goals and dreams. It’s not that I can’t wait to delve into the story and let my characters fall in love. No, it’s because of the struggle – in every single story I’ve written – to simply begin the story. I write the opening few pages, then rewrite them, then rewrite them again. I often have to walk away for hours, for days, before I can find the right way to begin.

For some reason I can’t go on with the story until I know I’ve gotten the beginning right. It's extremely frustrating and seems to be a shameful waste of time. But in the twenty-something stories I’ve written, it’s always the same, so I’ve learned to trust in the process, even when I’m anxious to go on.

Start on the day that’s different.

That was the advice I was given years ago. And that’s all well and good, but that advice still doesn’t tell me what I need to know. Start too soon, even on that different day, and you can lose the reader before the story gets interesting – we no longer have the luxury of building our world before we get into the story. Readers want to get right into the middle of things.

BUT. Starting a bit too late might mean that your readers won’t care enough about your characters to want to read on, even if there’s action going on all around them. They don’t want to learn about the characters in flashbacks. It’s a fine balance and one I still struggle with.

In Plaything, the 4th story in my upcoming Paolo’s Playhouse series from Samhain, I’d started the story at what eventually ended up being a page or two into chapter 2. While I thought at first that it was more intriguing to plop the reader in right at the start of the heroine’s experience at the playhouse, actually the day that was different was the previous day, when she decided to take the steps that led her to becoming a sexual plaything. And by letting the reader experience everything with Julianne, I hope they will care more about her and want to take the adventure with her.

Currently I’m struggling at the beginning of two different stories. When I sigh and close out one manuscript, I have another beginning to struggle with. Hopefully, in the next few days one of them will take off and I can give my characters the story the deserve.

Wish me luck!



Cara Bristol said...

I had also heard the advice, start on the day that's different. But along with that came the advice that you have to show what life was like before it became different, so the reader knows what is lost. Example: if you're writing about a woman who's life changes when her husband is killed in a car crash, you start on the car crash day, but show them having breakfast as a happy family.

Natasha Moore said...

That's great advice, Cara! Thanks.

Carly Carson said...

I too struggle with the start, but not where it starts. That never seems to change because I have the opening fixed when I get the idea for the story. But I must rewrite the first chapter 20 times along the way to get it right. I suppose we all have our different things that are difficult.