“Where do I start my story?” is one of the most common questions I get from writers. If you’re like most of my clients, it’s a question that inspires fear, anxiety and overwhelm. So let’s get you to the other side of that yucky equation with the following tip:
Start by jumping into the deep end of your story.
What do I mean by that?
I mean jump right into the heart of the conflict. Let us see—on that very first page—what’s at stake. That’s called a hook, and it’s what will pull a reader in.
What often happens instead when we sit down to write is that we get all tangled up in backstory. After all, we want to set the context, explain who everyone is, what’s going on, etc., etc., etc. The problem with this approach is that it can take us pages and pages to get to the meat of the story. (I call this approach “wading in.”) And if you don’t grab your reader with that first page, they might not stick around until the story really kicks in. We have one chance with readers, and if your story doesn’t grab them right away, they may very well go elsewhere.
That’s why you want to jump into the deep end right away. Show us what’s at stake right away, and we’ll keep turning the pages. To get there, explore your conflict. Set the stage for the crisis.
When you can set that up in compelling way, you’ve all but ensured that your reader will keep turning the pages, intrigued by the question your first few pages have posed.
But there’s also another reason for jumping into the deep end. When you first start writing your story, it’s hard to know where the actual story begins. After all, we’re just starting to become acquainted with the story, just starting to understand what it is and how it works. (This is even more true when we’re working with memoir. It’s imperative we discover the deeper meaning of our story if we want it to resonate with readers.)
As we get further into writing the story, we might realize that the real beginning of the story is much further in than we thought it was—say page 10. Or page 110.
That’s why it’s so important to just get started. Remember: the first step of that process is jumping into the deep end.
Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear about a story you recently read. What did you find compelling about it? How did the author pull you in?
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