Beginning a story is often harder than ending one. Introduce a character, but don’t be boring. Show the normal life, but not too normal…nobody wants to read that. It seemed like there were more methods for starting a novel before, but now, it seems the “start with action” is favored.
I went from writing 20 page stories to over a hundred within the matter of an idea. I had only a little inkling on how to form a plot. My state of confusion led me to Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. I love this book. He took Joseph Cambell’s studies on mythology and the Hero’s Journey and mapped them to popular movies and books. In his approach, the first scene of a novel requires the reader to see the hero in his normal state. I can only think of movies at the moment, so let me give the example of Men in Black. When you first meet J, he is a cop in New York. We see him in action trying to arrest a man who blinks with two sets of eyelids. It is his first encounter that there might be something off normal. Changing genres, in The Proposal, we meet both Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in the publishing office where he is frantic to get her coffee and she is speaking to authors as people scurry out of her way.
When thinking of my novels, this method is always ingrained into my process. Yet, my first scenes are not of the characters, it is of the plot. The murder of Pandora’s family. The death of Madison’s best friend. But even then, some say they begin too slow. I just read an article in which the columnist stated something that I am starting to hear with more frequency; it is a mistake to open outside of direct conflict. A lot of books are beginning with fight scenes, especially from debut authors. Why? Because they have to capture editors and publishers in the first page. Competition is fierce. When time is money, the gatekeepers are not going to spend a lot of it deciding to pursue a story. I think the same can be said for readers. They constantly ask the question “why do I care?” If the answer is “I don’t,” then the book will be tossed aside for a more intriguing one.
Does that mean writers can’t show hero’s in their ordinary world? I used to think not. But, still thinking of the two movies above, these introduced ordinary worlds with action. J is chasing a suspect through the streets of New York and Ryan Reynolds is running around like his job depends on it (which it does). It’s interesting and not without conflict. I think the key is to be relevant. Nobody wants a scene that has nothing to do with the story itself. That’s cheating. Tying everything together is what makes writing fun.