Posted in Beginning a Story, Writing

Where to Begin

“Where should I begin my story?”

This has been a big problem with so many writers – convinced that we can’t start writing our stories until we know exactly where to begin.

In her guest post on Cynsations, Cecelia Galante warns us not to give too much backstory right away – don’t start at the literal beginning, the birth of your character.

Most people don’t read books to learn how other people navigate their entire lives; they read books to learn how others navigate a certain part of their lives. The hell of eighth grade perhaps, or a loveless marriage. Don’t cheat your readers by weighing down enormous life experiences such as these other unnecessary ones.

Start right at the crux of things, where the details are the ugliest. The truest. Your readers will trust you right away.

I know I enjoy – might even say love – reading stories that begin in medias res, right in the middle of the action. If a book grips me from the first sentence, paragraph, page, then I’m certain it’s going to be a great read totally worthy of the time I take.

Just take a look at how Rick Riordan begins The Lost Hero, the first book in his Heroes of Olympus series.

Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.

What questions ran through your head when you read that? Perhaps:

  1. Who is Jason?
  2. Why did he get electrocuted (and consequently, how did he manage to survive)?
  3. What else was happening in his rotten day?

I just had to read on to find out. And it gets even more interesting. (If you haven’t read this book, apologies in advance for spoiling the beginning – at least I’m not spoiling the ending, a near-unforgivable crime!) Jason wakes up on the back of a bus, no idea how he got there, no idea why he’s holding hands with the girl sitting next to him, no idea who HE is.


Cecelia suggests a very important thing to getting started in writing – just start. “Write Big. Right Away,” she says.

All I knew, when I sat down to write my first book, The Patron Saint of Butterflies (Bloomsbury, 2009), was that I had a scene in my head that had to be put on paper. The scene involved a little boy whose finger was accidentally amputated in a door.

I could see this scene in my head. I could feel it. Taste it. I wrote it out in two days, flush with detail, pulsing with life. And from that scene, the next one came. And then the next, until, a year or so later, the book was finished.

But the finger amputation scene did not end up being the beginning of the book. In fact, it ended up being somewhere in the middle. But because I’d pulled up the anchor and started somewhere, the ship had been allowed to set sail.

Don’t get bogged down by the details of starting. Just start. And if you’re like me, start with something big. Something exciting. Something that makes you want to get back into the chair every morning and keep writing.

And one day, maybe much sooner than you think, you might find yourself climbing up on that deck to see something that looks very much like the end in the not so distant shore.

If you already have a scene in your head, start there and see where the story takes you. Granted, that’s actually how a lot of my stories fizzle out, because I also don’t take time to plan them out. But maybe getting that one scene down will help get me started.