Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Starting Line

I've seen some discussion on Starting The Novel recently. So of course, I thought I'd throw in my two cents. It usually comes out to be more like a nickel, but whatever. I'm generous, what can I say?

Anyway, I read something really great on Katie Ganshert's blog. (Everything Katie writes is really great. Follow her. Subscribe. She's awesome.) To summarize for those of you who are like me and don't like to click away once I've started reading, she said there are basically three places you can start your novel.

1. Before the Big Event (hereafter referred to as BE). And there has to be a BE. If you don't know what your BE is, you better figure it out BEfore you start. (lol) Katie says it starts with change. Change = BE.
2. During the BE
3. After the BE

I've always prescribed to #3. I like to start my stories AFTER something has happened. Sort of drop the reader right into the hot pot of oil and let them speculate as to how they got there. I think it takes a masterful author to do this, though. If you don't give your reader enough, they'll become frustrated with what they don't know.

So you're back to spoon feeding. You read yesterday, you know what spoon feeding is. If for some reason you were abducted by aliens and didn't read my post yesterday, just scroll down. It's there.

If you choose to start your novel after the BE, you have to be a spoon feeder. Luckily, I've had two children and well, yeah, that has nothing to do with my talent (or lack thereof) of trying to spoon feed my readers. But you know.

What do you guys think? Do you start before the BE? During? After? What are the benefits and disadvantages to each?

30 comments:

Michelle McLean said...

Both of my novels have started BE...I kind of like building up to it, though I try to start out in the middle of the big events (be) leading up to the Big Event (BE) :D

As you well know though ;-D beginnings are not my strong point. So I'm working with various ideas at the moment :D

Robyn Campbell said...

I tried starting my MG at the during. Which was right in the middle of a lightning storm. I was told that I needed to start it at Be. So I added a new chapter one. I like books that start during the excitement.

Then I started my YA during again. Beth said I needed to start it at BE. So that leads me to wonder. Why can't I ever start a book at the during part? Oh and the pacing was zooming. :) I rewrote it. I guess it works better, I just want a book that starts with a BANG!

Cory said...

My novels so far start off just before the Big Event - but after another, smaller event. That gives me the best of both worlds, I guess - I start in the midst of some kind of action, but usually small enough that I only have to drop a line or two to make my readers feel oriented. At the same time, it gives the reader a page (or two, or ten, or a chapter...) to get to know the character and establish their situation before I drop the Big Event on them.

Of course, my next novel will take place half a year after what might be the biggest event in my main character's life, so, you know. Ignore everything I say, because apparently, I do that as well :D

Aaron Polson said...

Whether a short story or novel, I start just before or during an event. The BE has to come a little later...but the main character needs to be in motion when the story starts, not sitting at home waiting for pizza delivery.

Catherine J Gardner said...

My current WIP is after the big event, and I'm sitting here scratching at my brain to think of one that started before. I'm sure I've done all three at some point.

Casey McCormick said...

Mine is after BE. It makes things so intriguing and you don't have to worry about your hook quite as much, because you KNOW you're throwing the reader right into it and not (possibly) leading up to it with dribble.

Scott said...

Most times after, sometimes before, but rarely at the BE.

S

Novice Writer Anonymous said...

It's a mix for me. My current novel, I'm starting right before the BE because there are sub-plots that pick up steam and act as impetus for the main thing of the first half of the book. Then the BE of the first half leads into the BE of the second half.

My short stories usually start in the middle of the BE.

And my poetry is all about the BE so take that for what you will.

Rebecca Knight said...

I'm a big believer of starting in media res. If it's good enough for Homer, it's good enough for me! :)

Great post!

Annie Louden said...

I start before, but that is usually because I don't yet know what the BE is.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I started my WIP at every possible place I could think of (great honkin' file of aborted starts). I thought I had an action-packed opener that was media res, but when I took it to a conference where big-time editors and agents got a read, they pretty much all said that they wanted more character development before the inciting event. So back to the drawing board. One of my new starts was at birth (no backstory there!) but I quickly abandoned that idea.

Mandy said...

I am definitely a before the BE writer. I like to start at the moment just before and work from there. Whether or not that's the best way to do it is yet to be seen.... ;)

Jamie D. said...

Hmm...I had to really think about this one. I generally start out just before the BE, usually at the catalyst that triggers the BE. Plenty of action, but still gives the reader the "pleasure" of going through the BE with the characters, instead of learning about it afterward (or being throw into the middle, where they don't really care about the characters yet).

I think I prefer that just because that's what I prefer as a reader. My biases are obvious in my reasoning above.

Lisa and Laura said...

Ohh, we're typically DBE or ABE writers. I guess I'd never really thought of it before. Great post!

L.T. Elliot said...

I vary it up, I guess. Usually, it's pretty darn close to the BE as it can get--regardless of whether it's before, after, or during.
Great post! I'm off to check out your link recommendation!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I like to start in the midst of the big event, so you see a bit of the MC's life before everything started to go ka-blooey.

Kat Harris said...

This is a great post! I'm an "after the BE" type of girl. :-)

Katie Ganshert said...

Elana! You are the BEST! Thanks so much for the awesome shout out!

I definitely tend to start in the middle of the BE. :) Thanks again, girl! You rock!

Robin of My Two Blessings said...

It totally depends on the story whether I start before or during. But most of the time during- jumps you right into the story and sets the stage. I'm still learning so maybe my next story I start just after the big event - whatever it may be. :)

V said...

I think I must be addicted to set up, because when I was revising the first draft of my WIP I realized I had 80 pages before the BE. Now there's considerably (consiiiiiderably) fewer pages. And when I read your post, I thought "huh. People start writing at or post BE?" which is the sign of a sickness, a sickness I tell you.

And now I'm off to think outside the box. Thanks!

Mim said...

Both of mine start the day of the BE. One just a few minutes before, and the other about two hours before. So I guess before, but in both of my novels I need to establish the normal before I take them out of it.

Both of my novels have big explosions in the first chapters. It sounds like I have some kind of fascination with it actually, but I don't.

I think I start before, just before so that I can show BE.

Interesting post!

KM said...

I love starting right before a BE; and when I say before, I mean like two or three pages before. My favorite part of a BE is the suspense right before it happens, so I like the reader to feel the hype and want to see what the BE will be. But I like starting after too; it raises questions and intrigue. :)

Jenna Alexander said...

I'm also one to do just before the BE. In my WIP Human Servant (WT) I lead the reader through the after math of the BE. It will hopefully be full of "how the heck are they going to get through this" kind of reactions.

Jan Markley said...

The way I've heard it described is: "start the story at the point where there is a change in the character's life."

I just posted the long awaited and much anticipated (both by me!) post on my blog about frustration. It's called Frustration pumped perseverance through my veins.

check it out at:

janmarkley.blogspot.com

quixotic said...

I started my first book right before a big event. The second one was sort of after. I feel the second one is actually a little easier to write, oddly enough.

As for spoon feeding. I'm still trying to master that ability without getting character applesauce all over the screen. =p

Tami said...

I can't wait to read your novel.

B.J. Anderson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B.J. Anderson said...

I like to start during the BE. Always have and probably always will. Thanks for the great post!

christine said...

I learned how to do ths from you...now I can't imagine starting a book any other way. So, in case I haven;t thanked you...THANKS!!!

Jenn Wilks said...

I like to start BBE. But not much. But, yeah. I think we should know the characters to some small degree and care about them before we start shooting fireballs at them.

Although, one of my books starts out 1000 years ABE. It is just a prologue, though, and then the real story starts DBE, right at ground zero.

In general, though, I'm not a "throw them right into the action and have the reader scrambling to keep up" kind of a girl. I am, however, a big "hook their interest from the very first word" believer.

I don't think you have to grip them by the throat to do it, though. Depending on the genre, of course. I don't write in the G.I. Joe genre.

In fact, in the one that starts DBE, the reader is already highly familiar with the story since it's historical fiction, so they won't be on the edge of their seat too much anyway, 'cuz they know the final outcome from the minute they open the front cover. Of course, the whole point of writing the book is to make them think about what they /don't/ already know, so maybe I'm wrong about that. ???

Sorry to use your "comments" to write my own blog posts, by the way. I'll try to keep it brief-ish from now on. (yeah, right, she says under her breath.)

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