Friday, November 2, 2012

How Do Authors Begin a Story?

I'm often asked, "How do you think up all these stories?" And most often, I don't have a good answer. Usually, I respond by saying, "I don't know--they just come to me in some way and I start writing."
The person asking, as a general rule, accepts that and moves along. Readers don't really want to hear a long explanation--I'm fairly certain of that. But I should have a good concise answer.

Most readers believe authors have some mechanism inside their brains that turn on the writing gene. Maybe we do, and even though most people believe they could never do that, I bet they could! After all, if I can write novels, so can almost anyone.

To help with the question, I asked a few friends, "How do you begin a novel?" They gave me some wonderful answers. See for yourself.

Maggie Toussaint (Death, Island Style, a Cozy Mystery--Available now)
I begin a novel with an idea. Sometimes a picture or a situation jogs the idea, but the idea won’t let me be until I get it fleshed out. Then I make sure the characters inhabiting that idea are at cross-purposes and have the most to lose by someone else attaining their goal. My goal as an author is to marry plot to character from the start of the novel and carry that uneasy alliance through the story to a satisfying conclusion.

LK Hunsaker (Rehearsal: Of Chaotic Currents, due Dec. 2012, Literary Romance With An Artsy Twist)
My novels always begin with a particular situation, personal or social, and then a character builds around that situation as he or she tries to figure out how to handle it. It rolls around in my head a while as the character starts to breathe, then I open a new file and start writing. Research is done as I need it.

Barbara Edwards (Ancient Awakening, Intense Romance With an Edge-Available now)
My books always start from a vivid dream. I wake up with an important scene playing in my head, usually the  beginning and I know the ending, too. Takes me time to fill in the middle. The best part is I have seen the most important person either hero or heroine, sometimes both.

Cheryl Pierson (Temptation's Touch, Romantic Suspense-Available now)
Every story I've ever written comes from one key scene that I want to write. It can be in the middle, toward the end, or close to the beginning. I don't usually outline until I'm well on my way into the story, and even then it's a "timeline" rather than an outline of the plot points. If I can start with one scene, I can write forward or backward from it. Another thing that helps is having an idea as to what time of year it is going to be set in.

Stephanie Burkhart (A Gentleman and a Rogue, A Steampunk Romance, release date Nov. 11)
I outline a rough plot, knowing there's room for change. I then cast the characters and make character bios. Then I research the setting. Lastly, I plot out the opening, trying to make it "action" orientated with the hero/heroine involved.

Now, I have a better idea of how stories come to me. My stories always begin with a character, either a man or a woman. The person is in some sort of scene--

A man walking along a dusty road--Why is he walking on a road? What catches his attention? How is he dressed? Why is he dressed that way?

A young woman waits for the train to arrive--Who is she waiting for? Is she anxious or happy? How is she dressed? Where is the location of the train depot? 

 A well dressed young woman running away in a horse and buggy--Why is she dressed up to run away? Whose buggy is it? Who is she running from? What did this person do to make her run away?

 Now, I get it. It's clearer now how I begin a story. Always with a character--never the scenery or the weather or any other explanation.

 As varied as these answers are, I suspect each writer has her/his own way of beginning a story.
If you are a writer, how do you begin a story?

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
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  1. What a nice collection of story starting ideas. This is just the post for aspiring writers to get a jump start on their creativiy.

    Great idea, Celia!

  2. It's fun to see how fellow authors approach the same task differently!

  3. Great blog post, Celia! This is really interesting--to see how everyone else works. I'm like you, I don't begin with weather or anything like that--it's always a person or situation.

  4. I enjoyed reading from whence all those story ideas flow. Each writer is so unique. I use a writer's journal in which I write tidbits from life around me, things that are odd or poignant--whatever seems interesting. Some of my stories have come from that and some have just come from some other place. To start, I usually write a sentence under 25 words to get the story theme then I write a blurb just to get clear who the 2 main characters are, their desires and their obstacles. I work out a plot from there. The first sentence is the hardest for me. Everything depends on that most important first sentence.
    Great blog idea, Celia. I love to see authors discuss important writing skills and ideas.

  5. Wonderful post Celia Sorry I don't get here as often as I should. Great ideas for everybody for creative expansion. Mine seem to start out with an idea. A mail order bride arriving to wed the wrong man.... A virgin bridegroom marrying a woman who's been married before...An outlaw girl surviving her own hanging.

    That one's just in final edits and I am needing to tie down the details of the followup story.Your post today really helped me! xo

  6. Thanks, Maggie, for your contribution. It's funny--everyone writes differently than I, yet I understand everyone else's ways of writing.

  7. LK--very much so. I had not idea--and so I'm glad I asked this question.

  8. Cheryl--somehow I knew that's the way you wrote. I'll bet no one else does it your way--very different.

  9. You're welcome, Barbara. I did not know anyone actually wrote stories from their dreams. I've almost done it, but my dream goes away too fast.

  10. Sarah--see? You have still another way of writing that's different from everyone else. Thanks.

  11. Tanya--I realize we're all just waaaaay to busy. And so we cannot get around to everything we'd like to. But anytime you do comment, I appreciate it so much.I see your way, too. It's more like mine than any of the others--especially Cheryl's!

  12. I always start with this movie in my head of characters in a situation. Loved the post, Celia.

  13. Interesting to read the different approaches to creating a story. Have a terrific Sunday, Celia!

  14. I only had one novel which began with a dream, but that novel isn't yet finished. It's waiting its turn.
    I start with an idea which pops into my head, usually at an inconvenient time, and then I have to figure out where to go from there.

    Morgan Mandel

  15. I think all mine have started in different ways. Sometimes it's with the two main characters and either an initial conflict between them, or maybe some past incident in their lives; sometimes it's a vague scenario in which the characters gradually take form; and my latest release began with a lazy kind of musing and imagining when I was relaxing on a Nile cruise ship!

  16. Caroline--oh, you already have a movie made of your plot! I wish I could do that--Interesting that you call it a movie. I think we do see our characters moving through the story. Don't you know where furniture is, and the layout of a house, barns, etc? Yes, a movie.

  17. Morgan--I've had that happen--something pop in my head at an inconvient time. I've written notes on the back of an offering envelope, on a heavy paprer towel, and even on the back of a charge ticket.

  18. Paula--well, I guess so--a story would probably come to me, too, if I were lazing about on the cruise ship! I've gotten ideas before--or at least a scene--in airports. I did beging a story once while sitting in an airport waiting for my flight. I saw three young people--two men and one female--interacting, and started the story. Title--A Christmas Wedding.

  19. Very interesting blog, Celia. A character or characters come to live in my mind and tell me their story. Sometimes it is a place that haunts me until I tell a story. But always, it is the person or place that won't let go untill I put them on paper.

  20. Linda--me, too. We are, after all, sisters. The person and the place--that's what I see, and honestly, I don't know where this is going. You, too, I know. And....we're not alone. Thanks!

  21. Thanks for the great post. My ideas come from all over the place. Some from dreams, some from the news. Some happen while I'm driving. There are so many.

  22. Celia, I know I'm late, forgive me. I love all the ideas that were presented. I wrote one story, "The Green Rose," based around a certain scene I felt I needed to write.

    I would encourage aspiring writers to start with the character doing something and not description or scene setting. I want to know about the character that's going to take me on a journey.

    Also, I think an important element to flesh out is the conflict between the hero/heroine. I'll freely admit this is something I struggle with, but for a novel to really work, the conflict has to be pitch perfect, walking that thin line of "I want you/don't want you" and it's the events and how the characters react to them that make the hero/heroine want to be with each other.


  23. Celia, I forgot to add that my current 'work in progress' was partly inspired when I was in Ireland and saw Maureen O'Hara's signature in a guest book in the cottage-museum dedicated to the movie 'The Quiet Man' in which she was John Wayne's leading lady. IOt sparked my imagination!