In the Beginning

So it begins.

The story’s there in the mind, nowhere on the paper. There’s a great tale somewhere within your grand idea, but getting into it remains the dilemma. The beginning is your builder of momentum. Get the right push, and the narrative carries itself. Start by languishing in the mud, forgo your impetus, and we have a story that’s fighting the doldrums when it should be developing.

Describe your setting, too pedestrian. Set the stage, whisk us away. Talk about your character, invite us to ignore them. Have us tag along with that character’s goings-on, we’re in. Tell us, and we won’t listen. Show us, and we might glance. Take us, and we’ll go. Anything less, and there’s nothing but a journey not taken.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

how do i begin my story. do I start by descirbing [sic] the scenety [sic] or should I tell a little bit more about my character? Its pioneer romance with a feel-good feel and i dont kow [sic] whether or not i should start with the pioneer setting or whether or not I should start with my pioneer heroin [sic, I think]. 

—Gabey Meeks, Hagerstown, Md.


The short answers: 1) I don’t think you should begin this story. At all. 2) If you’re faced with a choice of “descirbing scenety” and telling more about a character, I’d go with what makes actual sense. 3) Maybe you can tell me more about this “feel-good feel.” 4) Be careful with that pioneer heroin. I’m assuming it’s a touch more potent.

The long answers: Depends entirely on where you’re taking this story. You could start with a standard intro, bringing the protagonist’s struggle to the forefront right away:

“Across the dusty thoroughfare, she could hear the doctor cursing about his missing needles and syringes. She hoped the apothecary wouldn’t also notice anything missing from his reserves. Her desperation led to constant fear.”

You could also lunge into your character, as you tried to suggest:

“Martha sobbed, tears tracing through dusty cheeks. She winced after tightening the bandana on her arm, battered from self-infliction and addiction. The remnant strands of her pale hair fell prey to gusts of sand and wind.”

Perhaps the setting then? Not going to offer much in that vein, other than mentioning that you’ll see this often. Narrative absorption is predicated on some mode of mental/spatial transportation, hence the prevalence of setting first, then story. It sets the mood, the tone, with the place making space.

But for a pioneer heroin romance with a feel-good feel? I recommend beginning another story altogether.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (, followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and begun with the letter W.


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