Friday, May 25, 2007

Where To Begin

One of the problems I have when I start a new project is determining where the story actually begins. It seems so simple, right? Start at the beginning.

Trouble is, the beginning isn't always so clearly defined.

I started a new book this week. Got about ten pages into it, and realized that I'd started in the wrong place. I started too early in the story.

How did I know?


Ah, backstory. The bane of writers. Backstory is the gi-normous info dump that usually takes place in the first chapter of a manuscript. It happens to me with almost each first draft I write.

I don't usually get to know my characters until about a third of the way through a book. Some writers outline religiously, right down to their hero or heroine's favorite fruit. I don't do that. I've tried. I stink at it. It's better for me if my characters evolve on their own, otherwise I spent a lot of time fighting with them, trying to force them to conform to my idea if what they should be.

When they evolve on their own, it's more natural and less forced. I find my stories flow better that way.

However, since I don't know them when we first meet, I fill in a lot of their history.

That's backstory.

It's the events leading up to the true plot of a book. It's superflous, for the most part, and can be sprinkled in later on, which is exactly what I end up doing in subsequent drafts.

So, how did I know I had backstory, nothing but the backstory?

I originally had my heroine meeting her father at a harbor. His ship had been sunk, her brother and her fiance were missing. I had them talking about this. I had them arguing about the next step to take.

And when I went back to re-read it, it was boring as anything. Nothing happened.

That's when I realized where I wanted the story to begin, and where it needed to begin were two very different places.

I try to introduce the hero and heroine to one another earlier on, set the stage for the conflicts (internal and external) and let the story go. But in this early draft, that wasn't going to happen for another two or three chapters.


So, I thought about it. Where does the real story actually happen? I tend to do my best free thinking in bed, laying there waiting to fall asleep. I let my mind wander all over the place, try not to direct it in any one place, just let the thoughts flow. Well, they flowed, all right. And I figured out where the actual story began. It isn't at the dock, having her father fill her in on the gory details. She already knows all of that and has gone to search for her brother and wayward boyfriend already. The history will be revealed as the plot unfolds, but for now, the only one who needs to know that history is the heroine.

And won't she be surprised when she finally finds that man of hers?

1 comment:

Virginia Lee said...

I like your taste in templates! ;)

And I relate to your post about backstory issues. My oldest WIP, the eternal one that just won't finish itself, has backstory issues too. I hate when that happens!