Beth Hautala

Children's Author


Beginnings || Knowing Where To Start

If my life came with a manual, I'd start reading at the end.

This is quite contradictory of my personality, because if you know anything about me, you know I'm NEVER one to spoil the end of a story by starting with the last several pages. However, life doesn't have the convenient wrap-up of a story. It fulfills all of the "hows" and answers only a handful of the "whys." Hence my desire to begin at the end. That is the place were we can finally stand back and say, "Look! There is where I knew what I was." 

Beginnings are tricky. They rarely start where you think they do, especially if you happen to be one writing them (or living them, for that matter). I for one, am chief of the accused when it comes to false starts. Someone even told me once, "Beth, you should really just write a book of beginnings—like a writing-exercise book or something. You know, you start and someone else finishes." 

This, coincidentally, was one of the things that spurred my determination to actually finish something.

So, how do you know, as a writer, when you've found the ACTUAL beginning of your story? Because, let's be honest, a story can start pretty much wherever it likes, and often it is a writer's job to simply chase it down and sort out the details.

In his book THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE (which I've never read) Stephen Covey recommends that we begin with the end in mind. This is a brilliant and practical idea, save for one little problem. I almost never know the ending when I begin writing a story. 

Instead, I try (read: sometimes succeed, but often not) to start with the action.

Now, this does not mean that you should necessarily jump in with a protagonist (or antagonist) as he takes that deadly dive of a cliff, or drives a javelin through the girl he is suppose to marry, or as he is being dragged down main street by a runaway horse— though, admittedly, that would be fun. It's generally a good idea to keep your reader in mind, (not forefront, but somewhere in a balcony corner of your creative subconscious). You should remember he/she is watching and will leave the premises should things become too confusing. Lead into your action a bit, but avoid the classic "information dump." —And I say this with a wry smile, because it is one of my chief faults as a writer. Info dumping. But I'm working on it.

*brandishes red pen*

Beginnings are first ingredient of a book, which by nature also requires a middle and an end. As in fact, does life, or it ceases to be. Begin with the action and let your characters drag you along—over a cliff, by the point of a javelin, or down main street behind a horse.

I promise, It'll be a ride.

Something to ponder this week: Look at your current WIP and locate the beginning. You might be surprised to find it lurking several pages, or even several chapters from where you open your tale. I did.