How To Start Your Story

So you have an idea. A good one. It’s been running circles around your brain for weeks, maybe years. You’ve sat down to begin so many times only to stop a few paragraphs in.

Why is it so hard to begin?

If you’re like me, you rarely have the whole story in mind when you start. You have a few characters, a setting, and some key plot points you assume are original. Your story, in the beginning, is an abstract painting only you understand. And that’s okay. It’s going to be that way right up till the final edit. But how do you get the ball rolling?

Start in the middle

In StarWars, George Lucas dropped you right into a situation you didn’t understand. He didn’t give you much backstory and left the audience on the edge of their seats delightfully confused.

Plans?

Rebel Alliance?

Who’s this scary looking guy in a helmet?

The beginning of the story doesn’t explain itself. It creates questions.

Don’t start with your character deciding to go on a walk; begin with him lost in the woods.

Don’t open up with the crew bedding down for the long haul; have them wake up early to a creepy signal.

Start with questions.

Show the heart of the story

In the middle of being confused, you gotta let us know what we should be watching for. Show us what your characters want.

Vader wants the plans
Leia doesn’t want to give them up
C-3P0 doesn’t want to get blasted

But what’s the heart?

Revenge?
Survival?
Love?

It’s going to be something basic. Something Simple. The heart of most of my stories I’ve found is coming home. While the stories are vastly different from each other and deal with different themes and ideas, they’re all about the same basic thing.

Restoration.

The beginning of Super 8 does this perfectly. Starting with the reset of a “Days since last accident” sign, it shows how the father and son both deal with the loss. Joe sitting on his swing set with his mother’s necklace and Jack arresting the man he believes to be responsible at the reception.

At its base, Super 8 is a story about healing. It doesn’t start with Joe’s mother dying. Instead, it starts just after, as Joe and his Father start the slow process of finding out how to live again.

How to find Your Start

Don’t start at the beginning of your story; start just after. Delightfully confuse your reader, toss him into the middle of something.

Find what your characters live for and grab hold. A precious locket, secret plans, even their very survival. Shake their hopes to the core and see what they do.

And when you get stuck — trust me, you will — just keep writing. Remember the heart. Sentence to sentence. Paragraph to paragraph. Page to page.

Write.

Follow Isaac as he blogs about fiction, stories that count, and the future at his blog, PencilDrop.