One of the most vexed topics to consider when looking at the art of creating a story is where to start. At what point do you start to conceive the idea of what your story is about?
The most obvious point would seem to be the beginning. That makes complete sense, doesn’t it? I mean, a conventional story has a beginning and a middle and an end, so why wouldn’t you want to start at the beginning?
Well, judging from my experience, there are a lot of reasons why you might not start at the beginning. Because I’ve written stories where the initial inspiration has come from pretty much every point in the narrative arc.
Of course, I have written stories that evolved out of their beginnings. My sequence of Neville Lansdowne stories, Doodling, Scribbling, and Scrawling, are all examples of these. In each case, the story was generated from an initial idea, a statement such as ‘Neville Lansdowne fell off the world’ or ‘Neville Lansdowne drowned in a sea of words’ that set everything else in motion.
Beyond this starting point, I had no idea what would happen next. In each case, the story was developed by gradually bringing in a set of characters, then considering what each character could contribute to an effective denouement.
But I’ve also come up with ideas for stories by starting at the end. An example is my rather odd MG/YA fantasy Through the Flame. The first inkling I had of this story was a very clear picture of how it would conclude. The process of developing the story was then about working backwards, to figure out how I could bring the plot and characters to this final point.
But I don’t just consider the beginning and ending as the only places a story can develop from. I’ve even devised stories by starting from a point somewhere in the middle. My epic fantasy story Magnus Opum actually began about two thirds of the way through, when I had an idea for a particular scene. The first stage of mapping the story was to work backwards, to figure out how to get to that scene. But once I had done that, I had to keep moving forwards, to work out how to get the story to end.
It was a funny feeling when I got to the point of writing that pivotal scene – like the realisation of a long-held dream. But even then, it remained the most important scene in the story – and probably the one most reviewers comment upon.
So what about the current story I’m working on? At what point in the narrative did the idea come to me? Well, it’s a romance (amongst other thing) so I guess I always had an idea for how it would end. But getting to that final point has been an awful lot of fun.
Posted by Jonathan Gould and tagged as