For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.
Today’s tip – Beginning the Story Before the Beginning
Where, then, do you start your narrative of consequential events involving worthy human characters? Usually, you begin just before the beginning.
This is not as contradictory as it sounds. If you look at a man’s life in its entirety, there will be high spots and low spots, good times and bad. You will select from that life one particular story to tell, say the time your subject got fired from Bromberg & Bromberg and went into business for himself. You choose this story to tell because it is, in your opinion, potentially the most dramatic, exciting, and fresh.
Where exactly would you begin to relate your narrative of events? The best place would probably be just before the firing. The firing itself marks the beginning of the story. But we can’t understand the impact of the firing unless we understand what the character’s situation was before he was fired. Is the firing a good thing or a bad thing for him? If it’s a horrible job and the character should leave it, the firing is a relief. If he needs the job desperately and the firing represents impending ruin, you have a totally different situation. Events can only be understood within the context of the character’s situation at the time the event occurs; therefore it’s important to the reader to know the status quo situation, which is the state of things at a particular time.
Despite the title of the book this is particularly good advice for Short Story Writers and it is stated in a particularly good way, “Begin right before the beginning.”
No backstory, no flashback, no prologue, no nuttin’ – find the upsetting incident and go back a few beats and start typing.