Sunday, January 8, 2012

Starting a Story

Evey week the Wall Street Journal has an article on writing, titled "Wordcraft." Different authors weigh in on topics which range across the field, but all have to do with writing of some sort.  Sometimes it covers word usage, sometimes it deals with the professional side of things, and sometimes it covers non-fiction writing.  I highly recommend looking for it if you have access to the Wall Street Journal.

Look in the Saturday section with art, book excepts, and stage reviews.

This week's article, by Darin Strauss,  "The Fine Art of Where To Start," dealt with the opening of a story.  One does not, precisely, start at the beginning.  One starts as late as possible, when the action is already moving.  You draw the reader aboard the train which is already pulling out of the station, thrust him into a bar fight, or have him struggling for his life.  Or just as he has turned into a giant insect.

Once the reader is hooked, then you go back and explain how things came to be the way that they are.

This article reminded me of a Writing Panel I attended at a convention, I do forget exactly which one, but the speaker was Barry Longyear, and he was verbally critting a story by one of the participating hopefuls.  He read aloud the first page and a half, which showed a spaceship crew dithering about what to do with a robot which was floating in the ether before them.  Then they fired on it--and their ship was destroyed by the weapons that the robot carried.

Mr. Longyear, who was turning in an entertaining performance, told the author that she should give us more background on the crewmembers, have us get to know them so that we cared when they were killed.  The author objected to this, claiming that they really weren't important.  The story was about the robot, not the people.  He held his position that she should make them important.  She argued.

I turned to the person beside me and muttered, "It should start with, They fired on the robot, and that was their last mistake."

Go right into the action.  If the story focuses on the robot, then by all means, focus on the robot doing something.  Something lethal, preferably.

Lethal is always a good way to start a story.

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