My brother came over for dinner yesterday and instead of having a cookout, as I originally planned, I decided to cook this turkey I got for 5 bucks after the holiday rush. It was taking up too much room in the freezer anyway so this was as good a time as any to drag it out of its hibernation.
But as I was preparing the brine to do its magical osmosis trick on the white meat, I got to thinking about the fixings that usually go along with the bird. Everyone has their favorite, but hands down most people want stuffing. And believe it or not they want it even more than the meat. Others yell, ‘pour on the cranberry sauce’, or, ‘fill up my plate with mac and cheese.’ Does that not push the bird into second class status? Nothing is supposed to upstage the turkey bird! The same is true about your protagonist.
You can ‘dress’ your story with all the trappings — a lengthy setting description, or some detailed back story — but the main focus must be your star player. So why not begin with him or her doing something that immediately cements the relationship between reader and writer? Before I wrote my first adult novel (the test book) I read the following:
1. Plot & Structure – James Scott Bell
2. Dialogue – Gloria Kempton
3. Characters and Viewpoint – Orson Scott Card
4. Write Tight – William Brohaugh
5. Story Engineering – Larry Brooks
I wrote and rewrote until my first scene had my protagonist right where I wanted her. She’s puffing on an after-you-know-what cigarette and recalling the last hour’s events with the unnamed man lying next to her. Here is the last sentence of the scene: “Then for some strange reason, she wondered what her husband was doing.” That was all my readers needed to tell them just what kind of woman they were going to be seeing from then on. This scene put my protagonist in the middle of things right away. Though it was not action-packed, it got the point across.
Some writers suggest you start with the character’s name in order to form a bond. Others say dialogue at the start is best. No two writers will agree on what is the golden rule for starting a story because a variety of these things has worked in the past. The main objective is to get your reader bought in to your protagonist, and his or her plight, ASAP.
As I mentioned in my last post, I am working on a chapter book series and since I am on vacation this week, I intend to really get to know the four would-be sleuths who will carry out the story line. I intend to take Stephen King’s advice and write at least 1,000 words a day, no matter what shape they come in. I am also reviewing the yellow highlights I put in the above texts to get me in the right frame of mind.
Suffice it to say I am going to put my turkey ahead of any ‘dressing’ that comes with this story and know my young readers will thank me for it.