There’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question.
I know many authors in various stages of their careers, and not a single one willing to say, “I know exactly where my story begins.”
Once in a rare while we know where to start the story, but not often, and certainly, not always.
As writers we have so many things to agonize over, such as “who does the story belong to?”, and “who will be the primary character?”
We need to decide so many things when we start a new story that we often overlook the obvious when we decide who will tell the story. For Romance writers, we know the story must be told by both sides, the “he said, she said” that keeps romance readers coming back. They love (no pun intended) a gripping story and so of course, they want to know why she behaved that way, and what he thought about it, and why he put the time and energy into winning her back. Did she make it worth his time?
If you have an audience that comes back again and again, you know you’re probably telling the story correctly. But how much do you agonize over the very beginning of the story? How do you decide when you’re just starting out who the story belongs to and how it should be told.
A general rule of thumb is when things change, the story begins. Always a good place to start. Change brings conflict. Conflict and its resolution or lack thereof, is often what keeps readers reading. But, unless we can identify and sympathize with the primary character, then you, as the reader are not likely to buy in for the long haul. And believe me, 400 pages is the long haul.
You must create and open with a character we love, or at least can identify with for the duration of the story. This simple direction is indeed a tall order.
How do I make you love my character? Or at the very least, how do I get you to accept him for who he is, like you but not like you, and still make him interesting.
In a word, backstory.
All of the things I, as the writer know, about the character, who he or she is, how they came to be in the moment fraught with conflict and change, and I must make you care about him and want to know why that happened.
You can love him or hate him, but he must arouse your curiosity, make you ask why? and also wonder, what happened next?
If you fail to incite this interest, you haven’t found the the right character, or the true beginning of your story.