A very unscientific look at first pages (with charts!) - part one
A very unscientific look at first pages - part two
I decided a successful first page needs the magic three: Character, Setting and Intrigue. Of those three it seemed Intrigue was the most important. I didn't look beyond the first page in my very unscientific study, but it was a start.
Now, as I revise, I realise how much work my beginning really needs. Not just the first page - the whole beginning. I've already rewritten it from scratch once. Apparently once is not enough. My beginning is still in need of a lot of work. A lot of 'rewrite from scratch again' type work. The question is, where?
Where does my story start?
Something I've discovered, which is going to sound completely obvious to all of you, is that to answer this question you need to know what your story is. Since Blood Legacy was written with no planning whatsoever, I'm still learning about my story. My characters are always telling me I got it wrong, and my list of things to do in revisions gets longer and longer. For now I'm trying to put a big black line through 'get the beginning right'.
There's a lot of advice out there on how to answer the question on beginnings. The most helpful advice I've seen is start at the point of change.
Don't start with action for action's sake. Don't start with conflict for conflict's sake. Same with character. Same with setting. Avoid back story like the plague (also cliches). Start with change.
What changes in your story that triggers the snowball effect in the rest of the plot? What is the inciting incident? This doesn't have to be a huge event. Explosions aren't necessary. It could be very subtle, but it is the moment your story starts.
Think about it like this: your story, the story you want to tell, is only a small part of a much larger story. Your characters and world existed (in the land of make-believe -- let's not get too carried away) long before the events of your story began and long after it ends. Your characters had lives. Your world had history. But you're not telling the story of previous historical events, or how your characters came to be where they are now. You're telling the story of where they're going.
If the story before is a wide river flowing along a straight path, then your beginning is the the event that diverts that river -- the moment of change -- and the story you tell is the rapids and waterfalls and constricting gorges the river has to flow through before it can return to a new calm path.
Poison Study by Maria V Snyder, starts with the main character Yelena being taken from a cell where she's spent the last year, to what she believes is her execution. She's then given a choice -- die or become the Commander's new poison taster.
The story doesn't start with what she did to get into the cell. It doesn't start with the events leading to her taking such an action. It starts with the moment of change. The reason the rest of the story happens. Up until that point her path was leading to death, and it was diverted with a choice. What happens after ... well I'll let you read it to find out.
Not all stories have the moment of change so soon, but the best ones often start as close to that point as possible. Anything else is set-up. Anything else can lose a reader.
Do you find beginnings difficult? Do you know when your story starts, or are you still trying to figure that out, like me? Do you agree with starting with the point of change, or do you have another take on beginnings?