Friday, August 26, 2011

It All Depends on Where You Start

I was talking to another writer the other day about some instructions she was writing, trying to offer useful comments.  She was pointing out the three paths and three sets of instructions she had to write to explain how to get started with the product she writes about.

I pointed out common information should go in one place to save on the writing.  And she quipped back, it depends on where you start.  By this she meant, it depends on how someone might use her product.

I thought she was saying it depends where you start writing and that's certainly is true for instructions and creative writing.  I was remembered of an exercise I did back in a high school English class.  The assignment was write instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I did this.  It seemed simple enough.  You put the peanut butter on one slice of bread and jelly on the other.

Then the teacher had someone follow the instructions.  Putting peanut butter on a slice of bread meant taking the jar of peanut butter and placing it on the bread, rather than what was meant: take a knife.  Open a jar of peanut butter.  Take a slice of bread and place it in front of you. Scoop some peanut butter onto the knife.  Spread it on the slice of bread in front of you.

And so on.

Point taken.  This is true in story writing too.  My novel, Aure, the Topaz, has had at four different opening as I worked out where to start.  First it was Evan riding into town.  That was too soon.  Then it was with the major characters arriving into town, showing what had brought them into town.  That was misleading.  Evan is the main character; I needed to start with him.  Then it was Evan just before coming to town.  That was too far.  So I settled on Evan getting permission to visit his hometown for a very specific reason.

So watch how you start and try to determine if it is clear and to the point.  Does it set up the story properly?  Does it introduce the main character?  Does it engage the reader?

If you answer no to these questions, go back and revise.  You're story will be better for it.

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