Research done, fears and procrastination dispensed with, plot clear (or clearer), outline completed, it is time to start writing. But where to start the story? Do you start from the beginning, the middle or the end? Much has been written about in media res. Start in the middle. The advantages are many.
- You can introduce your protagonist in some sort of dilemma. As the story unfolds, the dilemma is explained, the background explored, and the story develops toward a resolution.
- Or start with an inciting incident. This grabs the readers attention, establishes a time and place, and enables you to explore the story, develop your characters and, again, head toward a resolution.
Starting your story in the middle gives the writer much leeway to go back and forth in time.
One of the critical things I learned years back was to understand the time frame of a story’s action. What do I mean by this? From the first time the protagonist is introduced or from the time the inciting event occurs, determine how long the “action” of the story covers. Is it a day, a week, a year, or many years? Does it matter? It sure does.
In “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the actual events in the story take 20 minutes, but the reader is exposed to a storyline that occurred over the previous 70 years. How wonderful is this? How skillful! The writer takes you back and forth, peeling away layer upon layer of the character’s history and all that surrounds the story, enriching it to make a sumptuous meal of words and ideas. I urge readers and writers alike to account for the length of time a story actually takes, and also pay attention to how much time in actually covers. Starting a story in the middle permits the writer to paint a vivid and rich story by skillfully guiding the reader through time patches that enhance the novel.
It is possible to craft a story telling the tale starting from the end. Consider “The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All: A Novel.” by Allan Gurganus. This is the story of a 99 year old widow who tells her life story. In doing so, the author is able to go back and forth in time, engaging the reader in a rich and satisfying book.
Lastly it is not a good idea to start a story at the beginning. Starting at the beginning does not allow the writer to refer to past events because everything is still in the “future.” Consider movies that are essentially fast and furious “chase” scenes. It is one stunt after another, with little character or story development. The movie can be exciting, but it is not a fully formed story layered in depth. Novels that start in the middle are.