Jump to content
Graeme

Starting a new story

Recommended Posts

I'd like opinions on the subject of starting a new story.

As I see it, the vast majority of stories commence with a change. Sometimes this is a dramatic change (like moving to a new city) and sometimes it's just growing up (which is one reason why stories about teens are so popular -- there's lots of change at that time in a person's life).

The reason I see is that you need a premise to start a story. If there isn't a change, then why is the story starting at that particular point?

Am I on the right track so far?

Hopefully, yes, because this leads into my main question....

I have this personal aversion to car accidents in stories because it seems too glib and easy to throw one into a story, but should I make an exception for the start of a story? Having a car accident that triggers the story would, to me, seem more acceptable. My only problem is my current novel started with a death, and it looks like my next one also starts with a death and I hate falling into a regular pattern like that.

Am I being overly concerned (since this will only be my fourth novel)?

Link to comment

"I have this personal aversion to car accidents in stories"

I don't think you should limit your aversion to just accidents within stories, but should try to avert them in real life as well.

However, to the point.

You need to write in a way that makes you comfortable, and if you start with something that is a personal aversion, it is bound to not go nearly as well. On the other hand, testing/stretching your abilities might be the best thing for you. In exercise, it is only when you stress slightly, but not too much, that you get the greatest benefit.

One big problem, assuming that your pivotal change point is even valid, is that there are limited changes that happen which are seemingly significant enough to be used as story starts. Eating something different for breakfast is a change, but hardly of major significance, and likely to not be a good start. You need drama, flair, pain, joy, shock, or some other strong emotional connection to hook the reader. Obviously your choice needs to reflect the direction of the story you have probably formulated in your mind, but maybe some other change, other than this unwanted accident, can be found. If your story is such that a bike accident, canoe tipping over, or even just witnessing an armed robbery will suffice, then maybe that would be a better approach.

I'm not altogether sure a story needs to start with change though. A nicely descriptive chapter on the daily life of someone interesting, or even someone dull but written interestingly, is quite satisfactory to me. Have the disaster strike after a good character buildup.

Now I'd better just shut up, before someone points out that I've never written anything longer than about 1000 words. :blush:

Link to comment

Thanks, Trab!

I should clarify what I meant by an aversion. I try to avoid them in stories simply because I think it's unrealistic. I saw a statistic once that there is one fatal car accident for every few million car trips. Having such an accident during a story then becomes unlikely. Having said that, starting a story with such an accident is, I think, different, because the story is starting from that premise and so the rarity of the situation isn't an issue.

Link to comment

Graeme;

I know the car accident is a bit of a cliche', but it can be handled well. Like you, I've seen innumerable, and unmemorable, stories using the car accident as the catalyst for whatever life changing actions are described in the story. One example of a good use of the car accident that I can remember, though, is Driver's 'Sudden Storm'. Now I admit that a bus is a good deal bigger than a car, and a bus accident impacts many more lives than one car accident. Perhaps, like Driver, you just need a unique angle.

How about having the car be destroyed as part of an intergalactic invasion by three armed space aliens, and how the redoubtable Aussies lead the world to victory? You could spin that into quite a yarn!

Just kidding...I think. :blush: :blush: :blush:

Rick

Link to comment

Or the 'accident' could be much less serious. You know what we say when little kids have pooped their pants, right? Little Johnny had an accident. Well, maybe the car could have an oil spill? Or, like an unwed mother who had a little accident, Ms. Car, who is secretly a TRANSFORMER, drops a little baby car, as she leaves a parking lot, necessitating government intervention in the raising of the baby, Mini.

Link to comment

Hey Graeme,

One of my favorite author's once said, "There is nothing new to write about." or something to that effect. If that is the case, then none of us can ever write anything new or original. So it falls on us to use something that has been done before, but put our own spin on it. If you can think of an idea around a car accident, and the characters are believable as well as the plot, then your story will work. I do think we should know all the rules of writing, and I also think if you know the rules, then you know when to break them. Knowing the type of story you usually tell, I don't think you should have a problem.

That being said, whatever changes comes about due to this car accident, try to devise a way to make that same change happen without using the car wreck as a plot device. I would personally try to exhaust all other ideas before going back to a car wreck. Though to give you something else to think about, I've been involved in three accidents, two of my best friends have been in a major car accident, and a cousin of mine died in a car accident. So car accidents do happen, and they change so many lives when they do. Just my two paragraphs of thought.

Jason R.

Link to comment
That being said, whatever changes comes about due to this car accident, try to devise a way to make that same change happen without using the car wreck as a plot device. I would personally try to exhaust all other ideas before going back to a car wreck. Though to give you something else to think about, I've been involved in three accidents, two of my best friends have been in a major car accident, and a cousin of mine died in a car accident. So car accidents do happen, and they change so many lives when they do. Just my two paragraphs of thought.

Hi, Jason,

Thanks. I've been trying to think of another circumstance that would duplicate the same situation, but I've been unable to do so. The situation is currently:

A gay couple end up as guardians for two young kids after a car accident killed the kids' father and put the kids' mother in hospital for an extended period of time. The mother appointed her brother (one of the gay couple) as the guardian of her children. The deceased father's parents, learning of the situation, disapprove strongly and try to stop the gay couple from being the guardians.

If the father was still around, there wouldn't be the conflict. If the mother wasn't in hospital for an extended time, there wouldn't be the conflict. I need an event that takes the father out of the picture (so he can't tell his parents to butt out) and takes the mother out of the picture (but still around to give legal weight to her decision to give guardianship to her brother). A car accident seems the most believable event to do this....

Link to comment

How about mom is pregnant with another child, but there are complications due to a heart condition, and she needs to be in hospital for the duration. Dad is in Iraq, and missing in action, presumed dead?

Link to comment
How about mom is pregnant with another child, but there are complications due to a heart condition, and she needs to be in hospital for the duration. Dad is in Iraq, and missing in action, presumed dead?

Excellent Trab.

A variation might be for Dad to go missing in Iraq and Mum irrationally loses the plot, gets on a plane to Iraq to look for her husband, and also disappears.

Stranger things have happened and it would certainly be a dramatic opening.

Link to comment

Although, I have nothing to add here (I rarely do), I must say that this thread is really helpful. Thanks, Graeme, for starting this one. It certainly got me to thinking of unique ways to start a story, though as Jason quoted, there is nothing new to write about. I figure that's gotta be the best challenge a writer faces. Finding something new to write.

Link to comment

If one wants to write about something different/new, one will have to stay alert on new science. The problems with writing about the death of a quark or some such is that it will likely NOT get anyone emotionally hooked. On the other hand, the current experimentation, albeit outside the USA, of cloning could lead to some interesting potential material. Stuff never written into stories, as this didn't exist before. Other things, again based on science, could be the family with sextuplets, the astronaut with a fatal condition from radiation, human reactions to genetically modified foods (there is a strong feeling rising that some of the autism rate increases are from GM foods, but it is being fought by the food industry), the effects of high voltage hydro lines over houses, and a new one: the satellites they are putting up to irradiate the earth with spy rays to a depth of several kilometers in order to spot mineral deposits and new oil reserves. (You figure out what this will do to life as we get bombarded with high power beams capable of penetrating the earth that far.)

The catch though, is that it is human relationships that are always the same as some relationship that has gone before. In that sense, it is very unlikely that we will ever be able to write about something new, since even POSSIBLE relationships with aliens has already been covered by SciFi writers.

Link to comment

I'd like to push this a little further.

I was reminded recently of those modern composers that maintain they have to compose atonal music as all the good tunes have already been taken by the composers of yesteryear. Yeah, I don't believe that for one minute, either, but I have heard that as an excuse/reason.

My point is that many times it is not the tune that is important, but they way it is developed. (No I am not talking about arrangements for different instruments here).

Thematic development and its expression, gives an author's signature to a work. Even if you have never heard or read that author's new work, it is possible to ascertain who wrote it because of the way it is written. This applies to the written word just as much to music. It is the key to why we can be creatively unique even when dealing with the same material. Form is also part of the content.

In fact most artists from any field have a distinctive style that renders their work unique.

Two people both working (separately) on the same idea will produce different incarnations of the idea.

The car crash in itself is not what is important here and as the variations described in the above posts show, there are abundant variations on the theme of a story using a car crash as a jump off point.

The originality does not necessarily come from what is happening but how it happens, why it happens, even when and to whom it happens can affect that development an author uses.

A car crashes, people die, is hardly original. However it is still possible to use a story development involving a car crash if it is logical to the plot development. In other words the plot should demand the car crash, not the opposite of the car crash demanding the plot follow. I do understand how subtle this difference is and it is not always easy to do.

In terms of constructing a story from scratch, it may well be useful to start out with a well known cliche, like a car crash, then later go back and see what the story development really needed for it to happen in a dramatically logical way.

It is very easy to allow a specific happenstance to interrupt the creative flow. Accepting it momentarily can sometimes permit the story to unfold and then it can be justified or replaced later.

Just a few of my thoughts, and I too, thank Graeme for giving me the reason to examine them.

:biggrin:

Link to comment
As I see it, the vast majority of stories commence with a change. Sometimes this is a dramatic change (like moving to a new city) and sometimes it's just growing up (which is one reason why stories about teens are so popular -- there's lots of change at that time in a person's life).

I think there's a lot of different ways you could go. One book I often recommend is The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman, and he provides a number of suggestions on how to grab the reader's attention from the very beginning.

The standard advice is to always try to start scenes in the middle, rather than at the beginning, so that you avoid the set-up and all the boring details. For example, at a dinner scene, you'd start just as everybody was finishing the second course, not when the plates are first set down.

The other significant choice for opening paragraphs is: who's telling the story? If you're working in 3rd person, then you have to describe the scene and setting, then find a way to describe the mood of the characters through thought, dialog, and action. In first person, you're limited to only seeing what they see, feel what they feel, and hear what they hear. That can still be useful, if this is essentially the story of one person, but it might be limiting for other kinds of stories.

I would avoid relating the back-story at the start. If two kids were adopted, don't necessarily tell the reader this at the beginning. Let the reader work it out over time. Maybe have another character in Chapter 2 ask, "hey, you got a mom?", "and the other character answers, "no. She died when I was born. Jack and Joe adopted me." And move on from there.

I would hold back on precise details ("how did your mom die?" "why do you have two dads?") as long as possible. As long as that's justified by some good solid plot or character reason -- maybe their deaths were traumatic for the children, and they don't want to re-live it -- then it's entirely logical. Make the reader wait for the details, and spoon them out when necessary. Just make sure everything is explained, ultimately.

Link to comment
Guest C. J.

The fact is that people do die in car accidents, so it is not far-fetched. In the US, around 50,000 die that way every year. So IMHO, an accident is fine. What I object to (and apologies to anyone here who has used it) is when a car accident requires the protagonist to move in with his BF's family.

However, you could always, if you prefer, us an alternative for the same results. How about a house fire? Or a boating accident? Or a bank robbery gone bad, or (depending on where the story is set) a wildfire, earthquake, hurricane, landslide, or any of a host of natural disasters. Or a lightning strike (which will often get two people, if they are close together; a couple out walking was killed at way a few miles from me yesterday).

Or, go for something unique... Attacked by a rabid Echidna? :lurker::biggrin:

Link to comment
What I object to (and apologies to anyone here who has used it) is when a car accident requires the protagonist to move in with his BF's family.

Yeah, that one's bad enough that it should be on our list of "most-often used cliches in gay fiction."

And I confess to having used it in my new one, Pieces of Destiny (though the circumstances are far different from a car wreck). At least in my case, the kids aren't gonna be home with the folks for the entire story.

BTW, for those who asked, I'm going to try to revise chapters 1-3 and then post chapter 4 in the next few days. That all hinges on my workload, but if I can get this weekend free, I'll give it a whack.

Link to comment

I'd go with something other than a car accident, but they happen all too often in real life. I know of three people whose lives were changed profoundly by car accidents; plus I've been in one where it's a wonder we weren't hurt.

However, for a story that involves custody, I'd go with another scenario. Trab's suggestion was one believable possibility. Your basic idea is that the father's dead/gone, the mother's alive but out of the picture for some reason, she has given guardianship of the kids to her gay brother and his partner, and the father's parents object.

How many mothers or fathers today "run off?" (Yes, I know of that actually happening; awful for the spouse and kids.) How many divorce or have an affair or are abusive? What other life circumstances might remove the father or the mother? Accident, illness, travel, job, jail...? -- The major conflict comes in how the remaining characters deal with the situation, not in what's happened with the parents, although that will influence other story conflicts and outcomes.

Of course, immediately, I wonder what the mother's parents think about this -- and what the children think about this. It could be strongly affected by each child's age and gender and specific personality. What about other family or friends, who is unexpectedly supportive or unsupportive? What about the children's new friends at school? ...I'll hush, before I've outlined a whole story. :biggrin:

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...


×
×
  • Create New...