Sunday, February 28, 2010

What Time Does Your Book Start?

The rain and wind has moved out of Shasta for the moment, and it's just cloudy and mid 40s this morning, with no snow in the forecast. In fact, tomorrow should be sunny. However, even without snow, the damp cold gets to the bones, and today is a day for staying inside and writing.

As I get down to the business of starting “Mandate”, I always come down to that point where I have to decide just where in time to begin the story. This one involves the murder of a US Senator in a very compromising situation and the subsequent investigation that eventually leads to the Oval Office. But, does it begin while the Senator is still alive and trace the steps that lead to his murder? Or, should it begin with the grieved spouse pleading with an investigator to take on a case that everyone is convinced is just another sleaze-bag example of how money, power, drugs, and sex will corrupt anyone, once they reach elected office? Another possibility is to begin with the impeachment of the President and then use flashbacks to tell the story. Ahhhh, decisions!!

In “For All The Marbles”, there really was a small bag of marbles that played a critical part to understanding the story. In order to underscore the importance of these marbles, I allowed my reader to arrive right at the end of Custer's Last Stand, where the marbles are found on the body of a dead soldier. At the end of that first chapter, however, I raced forward through the generations, depositing the marbles into the 15-year old hands of my protagonist. Chapter two then snapped forward to present day, and the story was off to the races, as they say.

So, just how do you begin your stories? Do you always use a linear progression from event to event? Or, do you throw something at the reader in order to make them wonder....”what happened before this?” The answer probably comes down to what you believe will involve your reader the most, and also what allows you to tell your story in the most intriguing possible fashion. If you've seen “Law and Order” episodes on TV, let's use that story line as an example for the moment. It's always the same: someone discovers a body; investigation begins. Fairly effective the first time I saw an episode, but quite boring in the syndicated episodes now. But, just how would you as a writer use this technique in your next story?

Here's just an “off the top of my head” first page opening couple of sentences for you to play around with this morning. First, look at the structure as a reader. Does it pique our interest? Then, look at it as a writer. Would you do it differently? And, if not, then how would the rest of the story evolve to give the back story to the characters in these opening phrases and set up the reader for the remaining pages?

“He was dead all right, as were the other two gunshot victims...just about as dead as a 58 year old Air Force Ace-turned lawyer-turned US Senator could get. There wasn't even a trace of blood where the bullet had entered between his eyes. The exit area at the back of his skull was quite different story, however. A small amount of what appeared to be cocaine was smeared just under his nose, and the remaining residue was sprinkled across the face of a small pocket mirror just to the side of his body. He was sprawled naked across the bed of this hapless motel room on the outskirts of Tucson, AZ, no more than 30 minutes from his multi-million dollar estate in the Ranchitos De Los Saguaros estates area that lies at the foot of the Milagrosa Mountains east of town. Every local knew that the late Senator, Hugh Dakan, was a party boy, going back as far as his high school days at Dunham and Eastside High schools. And, he had cut a record size swath through the coed ranks of Arizona State back in the 70s. So, few would be surprised to learn that drugs, money, or sex had finally caught up with him. What might be surprising to some, however, was that the two other dead bodies on the bed appeared to be those of two 12-14 year old boys, both of obvious Mexican heritage.”

As a writer, you've decided to start your story here. Now, the challenge will be to go backwards and forwards to fill in the blanks for your reader. How will you do it? Or, is this the place you would start? Just food for thought.

I'm off to throw another chunk of wood on the fire and pour myself another cup of coffee. Have a great day of writing!

Write on!


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