This is an interesting question because the flippant answer would be at the beginning of course! But what is a beginning? There can be many entry points to a story, with each potentially leading the narrative in very different directions. I’ve just completed another Writing Challenge from Wonderbook (Vandermeer) that nicely illustrates this idea. The exercise was to use the image below to plan the opening of a novel entitled “Krakens Attack at Dawn”. The exercise required three ways to open the story at different perspectives Once the creative juices got flowing I added a bonus fourth.
Option #1: Open with a young deck hand’s glimpse of the creature out at sea. He goes below to alert the captain and crew but given that this is the hand’s first voyage, they do not take the warning seriously until it is too late. The focus of the opening is the futile attempt to avoid the monster
Potential Outcome: the ship is sunk and all are lost at sea
Natural Scene Placement: This option feels like the end of the story, nothing else to tell. Unless the attack was somehow witnessed by another ship. If so, would others come to slay the beast?
Option #2: Open with a cook being woken out of slumber by a violent lurch of the boat. The Captain has been thrown overboard and the crew is in disarray. The focus of the opening is on fighting the monster.
Potential Outcome: cook falls overboard during the frantic fight and is the only survivor of the initial attack. He clings to debris until he is found by another ship or washes up on shore.
Natural Scene Placement: Could be beginning, middle or end of the story, depending on how much of the cook’s adventures are compelling enought to be told.
Option #3: Open with an adolescent boy in a rowboat watching the creature sink the ship. The boy is the captain’s son and was evacuated with 3 other people – a sailor, a soldier, and the boy’s governess. The focus of the opening is on evading the monster.
Potential Outcome: survivors evade the monster and land on an unknown shore.
Natural Scene Placement: beginning of the story.
Bonus Option: The ship disappears below the water’s surface, leaving a trail of violent waves in it’s wake. A young female native to the land of the ship’s destination had conjurered a sea monster to sink the boat. Her people have the gift of foresight and know if foreigners gain access to their land it would mean the destruction of their way of life. She watched the ship sink and heard the screams of the passengers with some conflict, but an elder conjurer assured her that this small sacrifice must be offered to the Gods to keep their people safe.
Potential Outcome: The young girl returns to her village in honor but is plagued by nightmares.
Natural Scene Placementt: beginning of the story.
Option 3 and the Bonus Option are the most interesting from a storytelling perspective. I kind of feel like Options 1 & 2 have been done before and I can’t seem to muster any motivation to further explore.
This Writing Challenge was an interesting exercise because it made me reconsider where I began my own story. I got some feedback late last year that my first chapter was essentially unnecessary background and it would be better to start with Chapter 2. I ignored this advice initially based on my artistic integrity. But like Jerry Seinfeld told George Costanza when he bristled at executive feedback on their sitcom pitch, “You aren’t artistic and you have no integrity!”
I like to think that I have integrity but perhaps it is better to begin my story with Chapter 2 :).