In a previous note, we talked about ending with a bang, but what about starting a story? How do you capture a reader's attention since we only have about a minute's time to do so? How do we entrap them with the plight of our characters in such a way that they absolutely have to see the story through? That they have to make sure Johnny and Fido are together again? (you remember Johnny and Fido the robot dog don't you?)
Well, any good story begins on THE DAY THAT'S DIFFERENT. In that other note, I told you that epilogues were dangerous, right? Well, so are prologues and backstories. If you begin your story by telling your reader that Johnny was born to a middle class family and loves his mom, dad, and baby brother... well, that's nice, but it's not important to Johnny and Fido's plight. So how do we open a story? How do we introduce Johnny and his robot dog Fido? Like I said, we begin on the day that's different.
In grade school, you probably saw story charts like the one below...
But there's something majorly wrong with this story mountain... see how it's flat? Well, flat's boring. Really boring. So, let's skip ahead a bit and put our exposition at the very base of the mountain. Keep things lively by telling the reader that one afternoon, while Johnny and Fido were playing fetch, a man drove by in a truck and both stopped to stare. It was a big white truck that neither one had ever seen before with the words, "Big Chow" painted on the side and it scarred them both just a little... it gave them a feeling of foreboding.
How was that? Without trying to hard, I even told you a little bit about their relationship. By telling you that they play fetch, you know that Johnny takes time out for Fido to play with him. But I didn't blab a ton about how Johnny built Fido out of spare parts or that his mother is always annoyed when Fido leaves oil stains on the carpet. Your reader is on a need to know basis. You don't have to tell them something until it's important to the plot. But anyways... I began on the day that was different, a day that wasn't like all the other days Fido and Johnny played in the park together. This time, they saw something that looked out of place and would change things for them.
How about another example that we're all familiar with? Pinocchio. The story of Pinocchio begins on the day that Gepeto carves the little marionette. Now, Gepeto carves a lot of things... he's a woodcarver, that's not all too unusual for him, but this time, when Gepeto closes up his shop, he wishes on a star... THAT'S WHAT'S DIFFERENT. He didn't wish on a star the other nights (or at least we don't think he did) and even if Gepeto had wished on the star before, THIS TIME his wish was granted.
- Backstories at the beginning (prologues) are dangerous because they are boring and often extraneous.
- Your reader is on a Need to Know basis
- And begin on the day that is different.