The Middle, Start There

It’s a fairly well know piece of advice in writing. Start in the middle of something. Don’t start at the main character’s birth and describe the 27 years of his life before aliens abduct him; start with the abduction or maybe the day before.

“Yeah, but that’s obvious.” you’re probably saying, “Anyone who knows anything about writing knows that.”

True, but that doesn’t mean it always is followed. How many novels start with a prologue that may or may not contain important back story? How many stories start at the beginning of the epic quest?

A lot.

Now, I’m not saying those books are wrong or aren’t enjoyable. What I’m saying is that ‘starting in the middle’ isn’t always so cut and dry. Sometimes the middle is the beginning of the quest because that is the medium between the main character’s boring life and the character’s adventure. Sometimes the boring life is the story and needs to start there.

The start of a story is not an easy thing to figure out and it’s not an exact science. Most stories will go through a different start for ever draft that is written. What is important to remember is not ‘ You have to start in the middle.’ but ‘You have to start with a looming change. Something has to be about to change in the character’s life. Maybe he is about to be abducted by aliens, maybe she’s pregnant, maybe they just realized their marriage won’t work. Something has to be about to change or happen in the character’s world, even if that change is internal.

So, how do you decided the best place to start a story? Middle, beginning, end or somewhere else?

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7 Comments »

  1. Laura Said:

    You made a great point about starting at the looming change. I think people take all these “rules” about writing too strictly and don’t allow for exceptions even when the exceptions work better than the rules. Like the old rule about I before e—except after c and when it makes the sound of a. :/

    I start the story where the story starts.

    (side note—I’m having a haiku contest on my blog if you’re interested! I’d love to see you post something:))

    • Yes, start the story where the story starts! So simple and so true. Yeah, rules exist for a reason but they are not a ‘have to follow’ so much as suggestions.

      • Laura W. Said:

        As Elizabeth says in Pirates of the Caribbean, “Hang the rules! They’re more like guidelines anyway!”

        Bloody writers. 😉

  2. randallweiss Said:

    Good advice. I’m struggling through a friend’s novel draft right now because she began with a lot of back story.

    • Yeah, it’s so tempting to do the info dump at the very beginning of the story, but that’s the wrong thing to do. Resist! Use the red pen!

  3. My work in progress novel has a number of events that lead up to the story, but most of those events are mentioned in retrospect.

    * Minor spoiler alert *

    For instance, one of the revelations in the first chapter is that the main character is pregnant (funny you mentioned that as an example by the way). I certainly could have written a few “interesting” scenes about how that happened, but you don’t need to know the details of it for the story to make sense. I am writing a fantasy novel after all.

    • Yes, exactly! It’s not that backstory isn’t important, it’s just that if it isn’t where the story actually begins, it has no place in the beginning. Add in those details as needed throughout the story, reveal the story bit by bit.


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