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How do you start stories/chapters?

Crumbly Writer

Speaking of strong starts, what's your preferred method of starting either stories (first lines) for chapters (i.e. which do you rely on most often)? Is it action, description, dialogue, background, supposition, questions or something else.

In my case, dialogues are one of my strong suits, so I'll often start chapters with dialogue whenever I can arrange it (my stories typically require some set up, and so start up with descriptions of situations.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Crumbly Writer

One of the older approaches is "It was a dark and stormy night..."

Switch Blayde

@richardshagrin

One of the older approaches is "It was a dark and stormy night..."


Nah, "Once upon a time..."

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

@RichardShagrin

One of the older approaches is "It was a dark and stormy night..."

I've started a book with a description of the rain, which I liked since it allowed me to foreshadow what was approaching the characters. Sadly, my editor chopped the entire technique from the book--which I've always felt robbed it of much of its flavor.

When trouble was brewing, it was rain. When things were going south it would pour, and when things were looking up, the sun would shine through the clouds. It was a great metaphor, which I've since seen other writers describe as 'treating the weather as another character in the book' in order to set the mood.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach

@Crumbly Writer

When trouble was brewing, it was rain. When things were going south it would pour, and when things were looking up, the sun would shine through the clouds. It was a great metaphor, which I've since seen other writers describe as 'treating the weather as another character in the book' in order to set the mood.


It's far too easy to get mugged by pathetic fallacy on a dark and stormy night.

bb

Wheezer

I've noticed a few authors on SOL write each chapter as "a day in the life of..." with each chapter starting with the main character(s) getting out of bed and ending with them going to bed. :(

Ernest Bywater

@Wheezer

"a day in the life of..."


diary style stories are easier to organise, that's all.

Crumbly Writer

@Wheezer

I've noticed a few authors on SOL write each chapter as "a day in the life of..." with each chapter starting with the main character(s) getting out of bed and ending with them going to bed. :(

Somehow, recounting how someone gets out of bed, or goes to sleep, doesn't really advance a plot very much. It's the storytelling equivalent of posting every meal you eat on Instagram, because ALL your friends are so into the every nuance of your life!

If it doesn't advance the plot, or reveal something about someone's character, then it belongs on the cutting room floor, regardless of how easy it is to start that way.

@Bondi

It's far too easy to get mugged by pathetic fallacy on a dark and stormy night.

Muggings by Pathetic Fallacy and his crew seems to be trending on story sites.

By the way, I don't think you mean 'fallacy' (factual error) as much as you do 'improper metaphor use' or 'stereotypical shortcuts'. Just guessing.

Replies:   Bondi Beach  DerAndy
Bondi Beach

@Crumbly Writer

Muggings by Pathetic Fallacy and his crew seems to be trending on story sites.

By the way, I don't think you mean 'fallacy' (factual error) as much as you do 'improper metaphor use' or 'stereotypical shortcuts'. Just guessing.


Here you go:

"Pathetic fallacy is a literary device that attributes human qualities and emotions to inanimate objects of nature. The word "pathetic" in the term is not used in the derogatory sense of being miserable; rather, here, it stands for "imparting emotions to something else."

http://literarydevices.net/pathetic-fallacy/

bb

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Bondi Beach

"Pathetic fallacy is a literary device that attributes human qualities and emotions to inanimate objects of nature. The word "pathetic" in the term is not used in the derogatory sense of being miserable; rather, here, it stands for "imparting emotions to something else."

Sorry, I didn't recognize the term, but yeah, I know it's not a logical way to advance the story, but that doesn't mean it isn't an affective way to tell one. I typically look at people talking about how intelligent their dog is and roll my eyes, but an inanimate physical object on a massive scale (i.e. a meteorologic (don't think that's actually a word) storm) is easy to see as affecting everyone's mood, even predicting certain behaviors. It's been used in story telling for thousands of years (back when human-like gods controlled individual aspects of the weather and had to be appeased), to characters being gloomy when it's nasty out.

Cutting the passages, based on current psychological theories, robbed the story of much of it's power and appeal (I've never published it as a result of the changes the editor recommended).

Bondi Beach

@Crumbly Writer

I typically look at people talking about how intelligent their dog is and roll my eyes,


I know this wasn't your main point, but current thinking seems to be dogs are intelligent, yes, but what they are most of all is extremely good observers of humans. Extremely good. They've got us figured out.

Sure, "dark and stormy night" is a cliché, but as you point out if we can't ever tell a story with the weather, it's going to be a pretty dull world.

In Citizen of the Galaxy, one of his YA novels, Heinlein has a scene where the hero is being feted at a meal aboard the spaceship and is required to make small talk with the old bag who is head of the clan. "It's nice weather," he says. To which the bag replies, "It rarely rains in space."

Ha ha ha. But it was mildly funny. At least when I first read it as a teenager.

bb

sejintenej

@richardshagrin

richardshagrin
@Crumbly Writer
One of the older approaches is "It was a dark and stormy night..."

I have been known to start a story with the school teacher ordering pupils "Do not start with "It was a dark and stormy night".

Wheezer

I've noticed a few authors on SOL write each chapter as "a day in the life of..." with each chapter starting with the main character(s) getting out of bed and ending with them going to bed. :(


Yes. I am reading one such at the present time; it is the way that author injects a bit of sex into the story. That said the main character is often too tired to do anything and in the morning it is all the eSS&Ses which could get slightly tedious ;-)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

Yes. I am reading one such at the present time; it is the way that author injects a bit of sex into the story. That said the main character is often too tired to do anything and in the morning it is all the eSS&Ses which could get slightly tedious ;-)

I think we all know the author as his name gets dragged out whenever we have these discussions. He's an object lesson in what not to do in storytelling.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

(I've never published it as a result of the changes the editor recommended).


If you feel that way, then get those passages from an earlier copy, put them back in, and publish. I'd do it just to see how well it sells.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

If you feel that way, then get those passages from an earlier copy, put them back in, and publish. I'd do it just to see how well it sells.

That was the book that everyone here said no longer sounded like my book (i.e. she took away my author's voice). I got so caught up, examining every single line to see what to keep and what to toss, that I lost all my enthusiasm for the story. Too much self-doubt is a curse. Author's need to believe in the strength of their own stories. If they lose that, that's when their stories stop being theirs.

It's too bad, because the book was a nice mix of my older, more verbose detailed style and my newer, more concise style.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

Don't forget Elmore Leonard's first (of 10) rules for writing.

1. Never open a book with weather.

But I have my own #1 rule:

1. Never say never.

I happen to like "It was a dark and stormy night..." A little long for me, but I think "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." is much too long, yet it's loved.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I happen to like "It was a dark and stormy night..." A little long for me, but I think "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." is much too long, yet it's loved.

Ha-ha. Maybe I should send you my original version (with the weather scenes) and see what you think of it (I only showed you the prologue, which takes place indoors with a short reference to the storm outside (just before the guy gets killed)). As I said, the weather really sets up the expectations for each scene. It like foreshadowing, it introduces the mood of each scene without my having to tell readers what to expect.

El_Sol

I don't think about it after the first line of the story.

I don't see how you can do 'one thing' when it would depend on how connected to the last chapter the present chapter is.

DerAndy

@Crumbly Writer

Somehow, recounting how someone gets out of bed, or goes to sleep, doesn't really advance a plot very much.


I wouldn't say that. Depends of what happens while they get out of bed...

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@DerAndy

I wouldn't say that. Depends of what happens while they get out of bed...

The key is, is you use it as a mechanism to advance the plot it works, while if you simply recount the same details chapter after chapter, it doesn't (i.e. it's an irrelevant detail).

Having someone wake up in bed next to a dead body advances the plot, as does falling out of bed only to discover an ancient artifact hidden under the carpet.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

The key is, is you use it as a mechanism to advance the plot it works, while if you simply recount the same details chapter after chapter, it doesn't (i.e. it's an irrelevant detail


And sometimes the use of non-plot details can advance the story by showing aspects of the characters or places involved. Some people will include some minor irrelevant detail to mark a division point in a story, like end a chapter with crawling into bed, and then link to the next by starting with them getting out of bed.

What to include and not include is a fine line to walk, and a very difficult one.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

And sometimes the use of non-plot details can advance the story by showing aspects of the characters or places involved. Some people will include some minor irrelevant detail to mark a division point in a story, like end a chapter with crawling into bed, and then link to the next by starting with them getting out of bed.

I've got no issues with character development, as that does help advance the plot, however, starting each chapter with the "three Ss" (which no one really wants to read about anyway), simply simply a writing crutch, where the author has no clue where to start, so he starts with the character's daily morning routine, regardless of how applicable it is to the story. I can see how some authors fall into this trip, hell, I've centered many chapters after 'a day in the life', but such details don't advance the story, and should be cut during the revision phase. Hell, even starting with breakfast would be a better approach!

sejintenej

@Crumbly Writer

"three Ss" (which no one really wants to read about anyway),

I was taught that you should never ever mention the "s..t" part in writing. Victorian perhaps (she was probably as old as Queen V).
I also dislike the three Ss UNLESS there is some overwhelming need such as the need to be smart for one's maker as the meteorite approaches.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

There's a writing expression about scenes (and the chapter is the beginning of a scene):

"Arrive late and leave early."

Get right into it and end before it gets boring/insignificant.

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