I have never been good at beginnings.
Well… that’s not quite true. I used to be very good at starting projects and not finishing them. Often, getting started was no problem at all. It was maintaining the momentum, fleshing out the middle, and wrapping things up at the end that eluded me.
But now that I’m older, I’ve found that beginnings are difficult.
Some writing advice says that you should start in the middle of the action, something tense and dramatic to get the reader’s attention. Will he make it out of the burning building? Will she elude the shadowy pursuer in the dark? What was that noise under the bed? But that is tricky because if we’ve only just met this character, the writer has a very, very short amount of time to make us care about them in order for the drama to work.
Other advice says that you should start by establishing normality in the main character’s life before disrupting it with an event that gets them started on their path. However, this approach runs the risk of being too boring for the reader to maintain attention, especially if the story starts out on modern-day Earth. If your main character collects moisture from the upper clouds of a gas giant like Jupiter… then their “normal routine” is probably going to be a little more interesting. However, in science fiction and fantasy, beware of word vomit. Readers do not want to sit through pages of description about the socieo-politico-economic dynamics of your world before they get to the action, the adventure, the drama. You have to slip that information in. Some info-dumping is unavoidable, but a good writer minimizes it as much as possible.
But I suspect that beginnings, true beginnings, start with a choice. They choice to sneak aboard the airship. They choose to walk down that particular alley. They choose to help someone in trouble… or they choose not to. Even when it seems like a character has no choice at all, like being sold into slavery or being kidnapped, they still have a choice. Maybe not in what they do, but how they react. Those reactions and choices show us what kind of person they are and whether or not we should care about them. Those choices open some doors and close others. Some doors may be revisited; others cannot. And the repercussions ripple out through the story.
It’s the same way in real life. No matter what fantastical setting your story takes place in, we cannot, and should not, escape the blessing and curse of choice.
Today, I turn 27. For most of my adult life, I’ve felt like my ability to choose was compromised. I’ve felt swamped by all of the things that “I have to do,” the things I feel I don’t have a choice in. That feeling of being out of control, especially of your own life, if terrifying. But I’m starting to see that I always have a choice. I may not always be able to change my circumstances. I may not even always be able to control or change how I feel about them. But I can choose how I react to them, and that reaction will help shape my own story.
Here’s to a better tomorrow. To better choices.
To new beginnings.