essay

Leading In

I’ve never been very good at starting a story. Sure, I’ve had some practice at it. I’ve written a few stories, worked on a novel or two. But I’m not very good at beginnings. And I need one for something I want to write. Something I feel that I should write.

One of the most common things told to fiction writers is to write what you how. If this is, in fact, the Be All and End All of all writing knowledge is debatable. After all, the very next thing you are told, assuming you are listening to someone talk about writing, is that fiction writers lie. They do. It’s their job to create worlds that don’t exist in order that someone else can come along and read a story that happens there. They make things up.

The premise then is that a writer should start making things up from the place where knowledge already exists. Some basis for the lie to sit on, a framework. Start from what you know, is another way to put the earlier statement. Build out the area starting from some simple idea, something that you know. Then, take that and twist it in some way to produce the story.

For example, most of the urban fantasy books I read — and I do read them quite frequently — start with the basic premise that humans will act like humans. I like to put it this way: People is People. These authors may add powers, mystery or even, increasingly, sex into the stories but basically people will act like people will in the various situations. It’s why me, like so many others, love to read those stories. It’s all about character. And sexy vampires. Also magic. But people, most importantly.

That’s why finding a good way to start a story is so important. You want to put the people first and foremost. Who is the story about? What are their troubles? Where are they going and what are they doing? All important questions. All questions about people and all part of the opening of a story, which I’m not good at. Hence the trouble.

I want to write a story about what I know. Actually, let me shorten that sentence to the truth: I want to write a story. Yeah, that’s closer to the truth. But it needs a little more. Here is the best truth: I want to write a good story.

I can write a bad story. Jack and Jill went a hill. Then they had sex. With each other. The ants came up the hill. Jack and Jill did not notice. Now, they are dead. (Not the ants, the people. Jack and Jill died.) The end.

See? Bad stories are easy. I could probably write them in my sleep. Assuming that, you know, my fingers could type while I was sleeping and that I could also think too. While sleeping. The point is that I can write bad stories.

Notice that I did not say badly written stories. That is a no-no. I can write good.

No, what I’m interested in are good stories. In writing a good story to be specific.

And what you need for a good story is a good IN. As journalist might call it, a lead. I need a good way to  start the story. Something like It was dark and stormy night or The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed. Something good. Something that when you read it, you sit up — if you laying down — or sit down — if you are standing up. Something that upon reading it, you say: “Yes, this is good. I will like this story when I consume it will my eyeballs.” Maybe they will speak different words. Probably they will. But a good  beginning.

I am almost consumed by this idea in the act of this writing. I fear I might be. I haven’t actually written anything else fictional since I got the idea. I’ve been carrying it around, watering it from time to time, giving it sunlight, but now I need to plant it somewhere. Somewhere good. Where it will spread out its roots and make fruit. Story fruit. Juicy, good fruit.

But it all needs to start somewhere. And I am in the process of looking. Of scoping out some spots. I’ll occasionally find a nice clearing, maybe start to move a log over a bit. Maybe clear some leaves. But them I decide, no, this is not the right spot. How about over there. Then I walk over and start anew.

I need a good place to start. A good IN. A way a say a thing. A lead. There are a number of classic ways to start. There is In the beginning. There is Once upon a time. Even A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. There many ways to start. I just can’t seem to find the one I want, the one that is best for the story I want to tell. Maybe if I just tell a different story. Perhaps that would be better. Maybe that will do.

Of course, then I’ll have to find a new way to start that story.