Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Where Should Your Story Start?

You have a great idea for a novel. And you're chomping at the bit to start writing the next bestseller.

But wait! 

There's one question you might ask yourself when you begin to write your story or craft your novel's plot:

Where does your story actually start?

No, it's not at the beginning.

Your story should start a lot further back in time than you might think.

Look at the backstory you created for your protagonist. Review the inciting incident that birthed your protagonist's longstanding misbelief, and the place where she first acquired the desire to achieve her greatest goal. That's where your story really begins.

But here's something you must understand. Your heroine's goal and misbelief need time to grow and evolve. This is why you also need to draft at least three misbelief deepening scenes where an event takes place to deepen her misbelief about herself, or the way she sees her world. These events must occur sometime after the initial desire for her goal and the inception of her misbelief began.

So, to ask the question again...where should your story start?

It starts at the point where your protagonist can't function in life anymore without achieving her greatest goal. The desire for that thing she wants more than anything else becomes too strong to ignore. This is usually the time where her longstanding misbelief has become so deeply entrenched in her mind, that it starts royally wrecking her life.

It is at this volatile juncture in your heroine's life that the story actually starts, and it usually comes several years after the inciting incident that birthed her longstanding misbelief. This is often referred to as "in medias res", or "in the middle" of the story.

Here's an example from my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse:

By the time the story actually begins, Sandra Porter's father had been gone for almost two years. Her mother went completely catatonic and became incapable of any kind of human interaction. Sandra's Aunt Joanne had built up so much resentment and bitterness toward Sandra that she refused to say a word to her own niece.  Even when Sandra bumped into her aunt, she refused to speak.

At this point, on the first few pages of the story, Sandra feels more alone than she ever had before. She's dying inside as the solitude she lives in emotionally suffocates her. Yet, Sandra approaches reaching out to make new friends with great apprehension because she's afraid that she'll drive any potential friends away, just like she drove her father away.

To pinpoint the place where your novel starts, you need to figure out where your protagonist's greatest goal and her longstanding misbelief will come to a boiling point in her heart and mind, and she just can't deal with the internal struggle anymore. Then, you can show your readers the mental and emotional battle raging inside of your protagonist on the first page of your novel.

By revealing your heroine's inner struggle to your readers so early in the novel, you will surely hook the reader in, and pull her straight into the story. 

This is what you want to accomplish as a writer, isn't it?

In a future post, we will discuss where your novel actually ends.

Happy storytelling,

L. R. Farren

P. S. - The Catalyst moment on your beat sheet should be the thing that gives your protagonist the first hard push toward going after her greatest goal and defeating her longstanding misbelief with everything she's got.

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