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At dinner last night I learned one of our companions was also a novice writer. Now, as you probably recall, I am not exactly the expert in the field of literature but people know I’ve done research in lieu of formal education. And I read. A lot. So when presented with a query on being a writer, I do what most professionals do – I
make up an answer give my personal thoughts on the matter, based on what people far more experienced than I have learned through years of trial and error.
So before the maitre d’ said “dis way, pliz,” the question came up as to how I go about structuring my story, in other words: how do I go about getting started?
A great question, one in which entire books have been written. And the truth is – you start where you want to start. The tricky part is determining if your starting point is the best place for your reader to start. Aha! Like choosing which doughnuts to fill out your random dozen, this could be a writer’s most vexing roadblock.
I have always been a big fan of the “hero’s journey” format. The Star Wars tri-trilogy, Lord of the Rings, the beloved Harry Potter, and much from mythology – they all use the almost never-ending structure to tell a
way too long grand story. My very first novel, “Old Pecos and the Cursed Gold” was a hero’s journey. My daughter published it for me; the one printed copy is on my bookshelf, reminding me how far I have come. With luck, you will never read it.
Old Pecos was written as part of a Nanowrimo slog. I was unemployed at the time and had writing time to spare but not much education, formal or otherwise to help me produce a decent read. Since then I have read books (though not as many as planned – my unread pile keeps growing) and have
stalked become acquainted with with many professional authors, agents and publishers. I have attended conferences, taken online classes on writing, and follow numerous blogs. On occasion, I even go to the (gasp) bookstore and read / buy industry news, such as Writer’s Digest. (I know, I can get the same stuff online, but I still like the actual feel of paper. Call me a techno geek with stubborn affection for the old ways.)
What have I gained from all of this work? It comes down to In Medias Res or basically, in the middle of [the story.] In my new novel, an espionage thriller titled “The Mistress,” the story begins with the protagonist being unjustly accused of causing his squad members to die while they were on a dangerous mission in Iraq. A ton of great back story here, BUT the actual novel starts much later. The protagonist is already out of the Marine Corps, the antagonist has gone on to bigger and not-so-better places higher in the government. There is a new conflict – in this case: Iranian agents have stolen a CIA drone, forcing the protagonist to set aside his mistrust of the government in order to save us all from nuclear war.
My back story could probably fill out three chapters, but you – the reader – would be end up wondering “Is this the story?” followed by “What “is” this story?” and you would eventually put down the book and ask yourself “Where do we want to eat tonight?”
I’d go on, but let me refer you to the professionals. I am sure WD has plenty of good stuff on where to start, just follow their link and start perusing. For a more one to one interaction, join an on-line writing community. My preference is the WANA “tribe.” In fact, WANA creator Kristen Lamb has recently posted a great article on In Medias Res. And she uses the Star Wars analogy. Could it get any better? Check it out – and remember, you can’t go wrong with a dozen chocolate covered doughnuts in your variety pack!