The “Beginning” Lie (Part II)

Now that you know what story beginnings are, and how to craft one for your story, let’s look into one more likely misunderstanding you could have about beginnings just by the very nature of the word.

In the last creative writing key, I told you that every story runs on the wheels of time. And that is exactly what stories are. A chronology of events powered by the idea of causality. A story is like falling dominoes that do not tip backwards, only forwards. A push causes a fall that causes a push and so it continues until there are no more dominoes left standing. That’s a story.

Looking deeper into this very nature of stories, you’ll find another lie, or another likely misunderstanding you could have about the five Ws (Who, What, When, Where and Why) of how to begin a story. A story is a chronology, and since chronologies by their very nature already have beginnings, you cannot begin a story.

You cannot begin what already has a beginning.

I bet you’re thoroughly confused right now. And confused is exactly what I need you to be because confusion is an essential necessity if clarity must dawn. So, stay with me a little longer to understand fully our five-week long conversation on how to begin storytelling.

To clear your confusion, we will need to explain the difference between story and plot. You already know that a story is a chronology of events powered by causality. You should hold the image of falling dominoes in your mind. Plot, on the other hand, is what you do when you tell a story. What does this mean?

It simply means with the fall of the first domino, even the simplest mind knows how the story is going to end. Plot on the other hand, introduces a mystery to story by cloaking the end, and sometimes, the beginning. Therefore, the art of storytelling in it’s essential core, is plotting.

Much like story and it’s image of falling dominoes, plot conjures the image of a rail line or a number line which progresses from left to right, or diminishes from right to left. But unlike falling dominoes, a train can go from left to right or from right to left. And when the train is particularly happy and wants to scare it’s passengers, it finds a track switch. Also, in a number line, you either count from zero towards your right or towards your left. And when you’re particularly feeling like Einstein, you can backtrack with a subtraction or shoot ahead with a multiplication.

My point with all of this is that when you think of how to begin your storytelling, think of it as a question of plot, not a chronology. Stories (chronology) already have beginnings. It is the telling (plot) of the story (chronology) that you need to figure out how to begin.

And the five Ws is simply saying you can begin anywhere. You can start from the end and backtrack to the beginning. You can start from the beginning, jump to the end and backtrack to the middle. Simply put, you are free to be Einstein.

In summary, as a storyteller, you don’t begin a story. Stories already have beginnings. You begin a plot, and frame it with structure.

P.S:

We will discuss the storytelling element of structure in details soon.

The “Beginning” Lie (Part I)

I hate to break it to you right after the five long weeks I took to share with you the five W’s (Who, What, When, Where and Why) you can explore to begin writing your story. There is no such thing as a beginning to storytelling.

Yes! I’ve been lying to you all along.

Come to think of it, is there really a beginning to any story when even the dead end of all beginnings also assumes the existence of a character that predates the said beginning?

The hoax about beginnings occurred to me a few weeks ago while sharing ideas with a colleague on the spin-off series exploring the genesis of her latest fantasy series, Age Of The Anathema. I found that no matter how far behind we stretched into the series, there always seems to be a vague pre-story lying even farther behind.

I found that the idea of beginnings was a mirage. When I chase it down to where I thought it pooled, it jumps ahead into a dim section of stale history.

So, there is no beginning. The events of the last few weeks about storytelling beginnings were all a lie… But that’s only if your thoughts strayed to consider our conversations from this unfortunate perspective. Yeah, I lied to you, or I could be telling the truth.

You see, the point of today’s creative writing key is to call out this likely misunderstanding that you could have about the topic of how to begin writing your story.

When we talk about beginnings, we refer to the point at which the telling begins, not necessarily the genesis of the story. In the context of storytelling, the genesis and the beginning of your story mean two different things. While genesis is obsessed with finding the history, beginnings worry about What the first words of your story shall tell. Or about Whom they shall tell. Or about Where they tell. Or about When in time they tell. Or about Why they tell.

All things considered, I didn’t lie to you about how you could begin your story. Everything I told you only becomes a lie if the concept of Beginning and Genesis means the same thing to you.

So, I take back my words, there is a beginning to all storytelling. The pre-story histories are important to provide the backstory and rationale for the characters’ choices and actions.

However, I think there is no such thing as Genesis. And if there is, it’s the part of a story that can’t be told by man but God. For he alone knows what it means to exist without having begun. The idea of genesis is an idea of stories that predate time, and no man tells a story without running on the wheels of time. God is not man. Fortunately he was called an author somewhere in the Bible. But even his genesis story started with the creation of time and not the timeless age from which he emerged.

Beginning With “Why?”

As a way to begin a story, “Why” is best applied if the priority of your story idea is about the Reason or Meaning of what happened. In the end, every story explores why sometime, something happened to some people where it did. But amongst all these elements, some story ideas focus on the Reason or Meaning behind events as their main priority. In such a scenario, begin your story with the question “Why?”

Narrowing your focus to the “Why” of a Reason-inspired story idea makes the task of beginning the story less stressful.

When you have answered the question of “Why” correctly, you can easily select the measures and combinations of the remaining four elements (Who, When, Where, and What) that best emphasise the focus and priority of your story – The Reason or Meaning.

HOWEVER! HOWEVER!!

Your story idea prioritises on “Why” (Reason or Meaning) does not mean that you can downplay the other elements. There is a Reason or Meaning because in the first place, something happened to someone, sometime, somewhere. The point of this creative writing key is to solve the puzzle of beginning a story idea focused on investigating the Reason or Meaning of an event, not to score the element of “Why” as more important than the others.

EXAMPLE

“Staring at the high ceiling of the office, Detective Boris could not say how the 87-year-old President hung himself… or why it seems like he did.”

One prominent feature of beginnings with “Why” is that they either present a puzzle to be solved or present the solved puzzle. Whichever form it chooses depends on the part of the story plot from which you wish to start writing.

Beginning With “Where?”

As a way to begin a story, the question of “Where” is best applied if the priority of your story idea is about a place. In the end, every story has a place where something, sometime, for some reason, happened to the people it happened. But amongst all these elements, some story ideas wish to explore the Setting of a story as its main priority. In such a scenario, begin your story with the question “Where?”

Narrowing your focus to the “Where” of Place-inspired story idea guarantees you don’t struggle with your beginning.

When you have answered the question of “Where” properly, you can easily select the measures and combinations of the remaining four elements (Who, When, What and Why) that best emphasise the focus and priority of your story – The Place.

HOWEVER! HOWEVER!!

Your story idea prioritizes “Where” (Place) does not mean that you can downplay the other elements. An essential part of the story Setting is the Place and the Time of the event. Settings become authentic when you consciously do justice to the other elements. This creative writing key aims to help you begin a story idea about a Place, not to score the element of Setting as more important than the rest.

EXAMPLE

“London was a city I called home until I married James.”

The advantage of beginning your story with the focus of the idea is that it leads you in the directions of thought that best serve that purpose. In the above example, you will notice that your natural inclination would be to tell a story of how your beloved London ceased to be home, or how it became home again.

Beginning With “When?”

As a way to begin a story, “When” is best applied if the priority of your story idea is about a particular time in history. In the end, every story has a timeline when what happened, happened to the people it happened to, where it happened, and for the reason it happened. But amongst all these elements, some story ideas wish to explore a moment as its main priority. In such a scenario, begin your story with the question “When?”

Narrowing your focus to the “When” of Time-inspired story idea makes the task of beginning your story less overwhelming.

When you have answered the question of “When” properly, you can easily select the measures and combinations of the remaining four elements (Who, What, Where and Why) that best emphasise the focus and priority of your story – The Time.

HOWEVER! HOWEVER!!

Your story idea prioritises “When” (Time) does not mean that you can downplay the other elements. The Time of your story only makes sense when you have defined it with proper development of the other elements. The point of this creative writing key is to help you know where to begin your story idea, not to score the element of “When” as more important than the rest.

EXAMPLE

A story about 2020 and how it is unique from other years could begin thus:

“If anyone had told Conrad, the quick-tempered aerophobic pilot, that a time would come when he would beg for the sky, he would’ve shot the person right in the face.”

Now, even though the above first sentence named a character and went ahead to say that he is a pilot that fears flying, it is not lost that the story’s focus is about a particular moment in time. The fact that it intentionally refuses to mention the Time in question even draws more curiosity to it.

Beginning With “What?”

As a way to begin a story, “What” is best applied if the priority of your story idea is about a thing or an idea. In the end, every story is about something which sometime, for some reason, is the concern of the characters somewhere. But amongst all these elements, some story ideas wish to explore something or an idea as their main priority. In such a scenario, begin your story with the question “What?”

Continue reading “Beginning With “What?””

The Writing Process: Ways To Begin

No stage of the writing process makes a writer doubt their ability like the beginning. The beginning is when, no matter how you start, there always seems to be a better way to do so. It is a stage that sucks you into a loop of indecision that leaves you exhausted on a blank page.

Continue reading “The Writing Process: Ways To Begin”