Beginning in the Middle: How a Writer’s Inspiration Defies Chronology
I was thinking again about the beginning of a story – not a particular story, mind you, just stories in general. I wrote a post way back when about the importance of the beginning page and first few lines. It made me wonder how a story really begins – not the reading of it, but the writing. So here are some thoughts…
When you think about writing a story (if you are not a writer, that is) you might think that one plunks oneself down at a desk before a computer, opens a blank page, and simply begins typing at the beginning. I think I’ve seen more than one movie where a writer was in just such a position starting at a blank page save for the centered title: Chapter One. For many authors, this is the way to write. You plot, you plan, you sit, you stare, and eventually the words come. However, for some people and some stories, it’s not the first line, or even the first scene, that comes to mind when a story unfolds. So, tell me if this has been your experience.
Sometimes, the story forms in a writer’s mind in media res, that is, in the middle of its action. I have on more than one occasion envisioned a scene. The scene was not the beginning scene, the end scene, or even necessarily the climactic turning point scene in the middle of the book (if you know me at all, you know I don’t plan for such nonsensical things as turning points and ends. Such piffle!) No, the scene could be just about anywhere, but it made me interested in what it meant.
Who are these characters? Why are they here? Can I work with this? And then, to test it out, I might write that scene just to see how it works. Does it look as shiny on paper as it did in my head (things in my head tend to be much more sparkly than they really should be)? If the scene is rewarding, I might then begin to write around it. What happened before? What is going to happen afterwards? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see (me included… I don’t plot very well so stories are always quite surprising when I write them).
My favorite example of this sort of story writing is in my story of Lani and Kaele. I was contemplating… well… I have no idea, really. But I must have been thinking about something. I rarely think about nothing. I mean, I suppose I do sometimes, but mostly I’m thinking… Never mind all that. Let’s just say I was simultaneously contemplating the mysteries of the universe and solving world hunger, when all of a sudden, I saw a scene in my head. It wasn’t anything so dramatic as a vision, I confess. However, it was rather amusing and very vivid in my imagination. In the scene, a young man was scrambling around a bedroom in a state of frantic, distracted terror. He moved furniture, moved it back again, locked the door, barred the door with a chair, and was generally in a state of chaos.
And so I began to write the story to explain the scene. This must be Kaele, I decided. And he was terrified because he feared murder at the hands of his fiancee, Lani. He was barricading himself in his bedroom in order to prevent his death.
Lani was a very determined and bloodthirsty young lady, a princess in fact, whose solution to the whole arranged marriage debacle was to murder her fiance and make it look like an accident. No hard feelings, of course, but it had to be done. Kaele had just figured out her plan and an unfortunate comment about poisoned peas at dinner had sent him into a panic. Kaele, I realized, was a dramatic young man.
A knock came at the door. To my surprise and mild disgust, Kaele was halfway under the bed in an instant (I swear that Kaele acted on his own… I just recorded the nonsensical creature’s humiliation). He seemed to realize that this was not at all princely and heroic and soon came back out, feeling rather sheepish, especially since it only turned out to be his brother.
This scene sparked a great deal more. I wanted to know more about the ridiculous and amusing pair and why Lani was so bent on killing Kaele. I began writing the story from its chronological beginning, but that scene was its real beginning.
If you’ve read Tolkien’s The Hobbit, you know that his first line “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” was written on a whim on a blank page and was the first line of a story that sparked an entire world. However, this does not always happen. Sometimes the story begins elsewhere, as it happened for Lani and Kaele (whose story I have yet to complete, by the way. Kaele is currently bargaining for his life…).
Now, I’ve written many a story that began with an inspiring first line (though rarely with an inspiring plot since those, I tend to avoid when writing…). Every now and then, though, there is a scene that pops into my head and from that scene the rest of the story is born.
It’s your turn now, of course. Think back on your story writing adventures. Do you always start at the beginning or have you ever been caught off guard by a perfect scene that would make a great “middle” for a story?
Posted on May 3, 2011, in Humor, Inspiration, Melissa Rogers, Story, Style and Structure, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged starting a story in the middle, story writing, the first line of a story, writing, writing inspiration. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.