On Beginnings

Hands down, the beginning is the hardest part of writing a story. Followed, of course, by the ending and the middle.

But something sets the beginning apart. I have, many a time, sat there sweaty palmed with my heart racing as I try to put pencil to paper. (Pen actually, I abhor writing in pencil.) More often than not, the panic sets in so deeply that I don’t write anything, and instead walk away from my desk in search of less stressful endeavours. Open-heart surgery perhaps?

So know that I don’t criticize lightly. I know what it is like to begin a story.

Julie Andrews said “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Well, as much as I love The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews was a liar. At least when it comes to writing.

A story (and by extension, a novel) may seem like a linear thing. We are told that all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But that is misleading. Because stories are far from linear. There are very few novels I have read where the story starts at the actual beginning of the story and progresses linearly through to the end. There are even fewer novels I know of that do it well.

Generally, you come in in the middle of a story. You jump right in at an interesting day and then the main characters tell someone else, or they dream, or they have an inner monologue about what happened before. Then you go back to where you were in the story. And so on and so forth. The holes are filled in, the reader is kept engaged, and the story itself progresses with a life of its own.

But for the love of all that is good and sparkly, do NOT try to tell your story in a completely linear fashion. Remember, the beginning of your story/novel does not have to be the beginning of the events in said story/novel. It can be wherever you want it to be.


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