Saturday, 2 April 2011

Starting Out

I said it before, and I definitely mean it: the fellow writers on this blog are amazing, and I respect each one of them immensely. Everyone here has a very specific and unique style of writing they use, which suits them well, but that I could never pull off myself. In particular, KB uses a very distinctive style, but one that I think would counter my own so horribly I'd never be able to draw from it.

The main reason behind this is her lack of chapter-breaking. She does it in such a way that makes you hesitant to stop reading. Personally, though, I need chapter breaks in anything I write for more than 5000 words, so despite admiring KB's work, I could never do anything like it myself.

I think the reason I need chapter breaks is that I enjoy starting things. This isn't to say that I don't like finishing them, because I do, but I love to start things. Anything, really. I'm pretty sure the use of the phrase 'Want to start...' could be used to talk me into about anything.

The start of a story, though, is unique and, for me, always a challenge. When you start a story, a chapter, or, really, any form of writing, storytelling, or entertainment, you need to be able to hook people. I like to use sound for this effect, though there are dozens of ways to go about it, and I'll try to cover some of the more common and (in my opinion) effective ones below:

BOOM: Not sure if there is a word for this. But, in essence, start your story/chapter/scene with a powerful onomatopoeia. If you are walking down the street, and hear a loud "KASHOOM!" echoing from the street, you aren't likely to look away. Same applies to when you're reading. If there's one thing I learned from my years as a comic-book-enthusiast, it's that some good POW, BANG, WHAM, and SOCK is enough to keep people reading, if only to find the source or results of the noise.

Pretty colors: This is another fairly common one. You present the reader with a powerful or striking image that burns itself into their minds. This is one I see a lot in post-apocalypse settings, and it is also a favorite to movie makers. Sunset over broken cityscapes, blood sprayed across the snow, and even a well-done description of a character all fall into this category, and serve to feed the mind's eye with enough candy to get them reading a bit further. In general, I oppose taking time to simply describe and describe, but at the start, you can get away with it a lot more.

The ____ is ____: Give us the setting/plot. Bluntly. The president is dead. The world is green. My cat is sick. I am a robot. (These are not related, by the way. Though if anyone gives me a story which starts like this will probably earn bonus points.) "Why should I read this?" the reader asks. Sometimes, it's best to just tell 'em, and tell 'em good. You can cater the intensity of this to fit your story, theme, and mood, but I always did like to start with a blunt punch to the face. This is another one I see a lot with post-modern settings, or disaster/incident-stories.

Pants on my head!: An unusual scene is always a good way to hook the reader from the beginning. Because if your story starts out in the middle of a crazy situation, who could resist reading, even if only for the sake of curiosity? I know the only reason I got past page one of some books is because it started out with something so unusual, ridiculous, or intriguing that my curiosity got the better of me, allowing me to swallow that worm hard.

I don't know. Maybe I'm the only person around who enjoys starting a story this much. And obviously there are lots of other ways to open up a story, but these are all fairly common, safe, and effective. Maybe this all seems rather cut-and-print textbook, and has you saying, "We already knew that, Seth, I can see why you get stuck on the end of the week," But it's all quite fascinating to me, and loads of fun.

And who knows. If I can help you guys out the next time you are stuck on an opening for your chapter, short story, or book, all the better.


  1. I love story starters. I often find it difficult to narrow it down to just one because I have all these cool scenes floating around in my head that I want to stick in there.

    I work in journalism and I was always told that the start of a news story needs to have that hook (the lead) that will suck your readers in. It needs to present the main idea and problem in the story while enticing readers to continue on. I think the same can be applied to creative writing too. The ways that you suggested are really good examples of doing this.

  2. Story starters are loads of fun. When I was a kid, I used to start all of my stories with dialogue. Now, of course, I avoid it like the plague. Starting chapters with dialogue is fine by me, or maybe even short stories, but starting longer pieces of writing with dialogue makes me squirm. (That is not to say that I don't like it in other people's writings. On the contrary, I like it--when it's done well.)

    The only real problem I have, especially when I'm taking an idea I've already fleshed almost all the way out and completely overhauling it, is figuring out where to start in the timeline. Eventually, I pick one, try it, and if it doesn't work, I save that attempt and start a new one. And I try to never start a story exactly the same as another one (but with somewhere around forty or fifty stories, it gets a little difficult).

    (Just so you know, my next exercise when I have writer's block will be to write the dead-president, green-world, sick-cat robot story.)

  3. I love to start things. I love to start books, projects and cookies, but I have a hard time finishing them. Mostly because I get distracted in the middle of things and I start something else. If a book doesn't get my interest within the first few chapters, I often put them down and forget about it for a time. I often wonder what's the difference between books that keep my attention and books that don't. I also wonder if my writes would keep ADHD kids like me interested. :O
    Also, I totally want to write a short story that starts with "The president is dead. The world is green. My cat is sick. I am a robot."

  4. "Maybe this all seems rather cut-and-print textbook, and has you saying, "We already knew that, Seth, I can see why you get stuck on the end of the week," "

    Oh god I laughed so hard when I read this. At any rate, I think everyone loves to start things. A blank canvas is just so damn full of potential.

    Thanks for the ideas on how to start painting!