Creating a story is hard. Getting the beginning just right to hook the reader is even harder. But the sinker is knowing how much is enough, too much, and not quite there with regarding background, plot, and character introductions when beginning a story.
I write about something I’m going through at present. A something that seems to have plagued me since I really started getting serious with my storytelling. For some people finding a good way of wrapping up a story, the ending, is the most difficult part. Others say keeping the story going and the intrigue up, the middle, is most difficult. I am merely another voice to add to the myriad of opinions here to tell you about how hard it is to master the beginning of the story.
Thus, there are many challenges in CHAPTER ONE.
I recently traveled to speak with a friend about Project Stripes, which he is reading. During our discussion, he told me really the only part he had quarrels with was the start. I am reluctant to go back to the drawing table after working on it for so long (circa 2012), which is a cause of my current frustration about this news. Nevertheless, after several anger fueled gym sessions and some time to think, I have to agree with him.
I thought switching genres and branching off from my preferred fantasy-fiction would be easier to write: write what you know. I was wrong in some respects, this being one of them. Apparently navigating the beginning is hard no matter what the genre.
I’ve lost count of how many variations of the beginning of Project Stripes I’ve gone through. The problem, to add to the list, is my intentions of keeping this novel relatively short. I’m not interested in elongated narratives or pages and pages of mundane conversations about nothing too pertinent (at least for this project). I’ve read many a story that have even whole chapters where nothing of importance happens. I believe everything in a story must serve the overarching plot, the river which carries the main character through his struggles and triumphs. I should have expected to have a long trial-and-error with this mindset.
Ultimately, Project Stripes is a character oriented story. My friend told me the characters do have individuality, their own identity, and that is a big weight off my back. Maybe that’s why nailing this beginning is so hard. Capturing a character’s essence almost at the first page is quite a challenge. That’s probably why I chose to go this route with a character growth, coming of age story like Project Stripes; I like a challenge. My biggest setback, therefore, is figuring out how to present all the essential information I need the reader to know in order to set up the stage for the rest of the story and encourage readers to keep going.
I guess as I write this I realize I need to make note of what is essential for the overarching plot, what will get the main character on the boat and down the river towards his first obstacle, everything else is just diverting the water. My advice to myself and to you is to eliminate the cacophony so only the true instruments may reveal what we want heard. I have begun to do that, eliminate the unnecessary. A character that was supposed to be a voice of reason for the troubled main character turned out to be not as vital to the plot as I originally assigned her. Therefore, I cut her role, at least in this story, and replaced her parts with another character that could generate more tension and sympathy to the reader for the main character: his mother.
This is just one example of the great efforts I am taking to untangle this last fight. Once I have a handle on the beginning, I think the rest of the story will figure itself out.