Monday, October 4, 2010

The start of a story

After having read a good number of the first chapters at the New Voices competition ,both those I liked and those I didn't, I feel like I have learned a lot. Some of the entries that I enjoy start out in a sort of meandering way. It's usually well written, with likable characters, but it doesn't have that spark.

 What's missing? Conflict. How do you get conflict on the first few pages without dropping your heroine in the middle of a battlefield? I mean, that's a great way to do it, if you're writing paranormal or suspense, but I'm not.

I think for me, the answer is to keep the story, the thread of conflict in mind. Most importantly at the beginning. I'm glad I took the advice to begin  a new work for the competition. It's true my chapter would have benefited from some editing, but the process of building these characters and their story has enabled me to look at the other entries with a more discerning eye. To notice and most importantly, be able to articulate why an entry works for me.

I think all of the top ten, even the genres I don't prefer, have a strong conflict from the outset. This makes the reader wonder about what will happen next. The worrying  a reader does about the characters is what makes those characters matter. Then, even if they aren't saving the world, their problems carry more weight and that makes one read on.


  1. You're right Julia, conflict, internal conflict that is, is everything. The best beginnings I have seen drip feed layer upon layer of conflict into a story, to keep the reader wanting more. Difficult to do well!

  2. The trick is to get all out on the page. Many of the entries I read left me feeling there was so muc more to the story that hadn't made it onto the page yet.

  3. Starting the story in the right place is really tricky. It's probably easier to have written quite a bit already to know what the best place to start will be. I noticed that lots of the entries to New Voices (including mine!) didn't start in the right place.
    That's a good point about the chosen entries having a strong conflict from the outset. I'm going to have another look at them I think - to get me ready for the chapter 2s!

  4. I'll agree with mine not starting in the right spot! If I had to do it over, I'd be more heartless. But you learn more from your mistakes...