Sometimes the beginning of a story is hard to find, like trying to locate the beginning – or end – of a rainbow. I have a story like that. I have written and rewritten the beginning by moving it backward and forward along the timeline of my characters’ lives.
The first time, I tried starting with some exciting action and used an unprecedented number of flashbacks (I’m not kidding) to do character development. I also did a bit of info-dumping. This was before I really knew anything about writing fiction, and before I attended my first writers workshop. I’ve learned a few things since then.
Next, I tried moving backward in time so most of those flashbacks would be in the present. The result was that I ended up skipping vast spans of time to get to the meat of the story. It kind of worked, but not really.
Then, because of all that writing I did to fill in the earlier stuff in the timeline, I thought I could split that whole thing into two novels. The problem with that was the lack of an actual story in that earlier content. Yes, there were character-building moments that made my main character’s connections to other characters strong. We care when the character cares. Stuff happened to my character that pretty much sucked for her to go through but, while they were compelling events, those things weren’t the real story that I wanted to tell.
While every good main character (probably any character) should have a solid back story, not every event of their lives needs to be laid out, fully, as part of the novel. My character has experienced a lot of pain in a short period of time and, while that pain fuels her thoughts, actions, and reactions, I don’t need to start the story deep in the past just so I can include those events. The relevant parts will become known as the story unfolds. Those are the things that can be drizzled into the story like syrup on a pancake but, at the time I wrote it, that’s something I hadn’t yet learned.
Over the past few months, I’ve started the story in two other places. The first one didn’t work (I found out after four days of writing #facepalm) but, with the second one, I think I’ve found the sweet spot. This new beginning is a place where the world, character, and action come together in one moment. It’s a place – a beginning – I had to find through a lot of trial and error. I had to imagine and reimagine how to get the story started, but the time it’s taken (all the frustration included) will pay off.
I’m working through the scenes in my composition notebook, and things are looking good. Once I get the scene notes hammered out, I’ll start writing a fresh draft of the manuscript. This is my story, and it’s worth the hard work it’s taking to get it right. I believe every story we write is worth that kind of patient persistence.