Friday, May 26, 2006

Where to begin then?

Start your novel with something happening. Something has changed to cause a shift in what was done the instant before it occurred, and because of this change the world is now a different place. That’s where you start your novel. You begin your book the instant after this disruption of the norm. The change can be good or bad, and it can be a small thing or it can be huge. It’s not the type or amount that matters, only change. And why is this? Why change? Because humans hate change, that’s why. Change disrupts comfort. It makes us modify the way we did things before it occurred. Making changes can be scary and hard work. It requires thought, even. It can turn our peaceful existence upside down. Consequently, it’s the natural place to start a book.

Losing one’s job, a divorce, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a change in weather, tearing down the house next door, a new washing machine, winning a contest, finishing a sewing project—even an unexplained crack appearing in the family room wall can cause a disruption that will throw a person or family into a vortex of disruptions that challenges our normally peaceful day-to-day existence. This is your gris; this is the propellant that drives your story forward until its ending.

Let’s take a crack in the family room wall, for instance. What if the crack is being caused because the house is sitting across a fault line, and it’s a harbinger of a mammoth earthquake? Or suppose that the houses in this area were built where there once was a cattle ranch, and the ground underneath is where the rancher buried his cattle after they all died from anthrax. Do you think with this opening you could complete this story? Of course you can. Why don’t you try it and see? You can go many different directions with this. Dark suspense is really hot right now, why not that? Or maybe somehow you turn it into the romance. Ask the big question, “What if?” and go from there.

So, as you can see, there are many ways to begin a story and just as many ways to sustain drama/tension after your beginning. Just add some imagination and away you go. Good luck!!


NL Gassert said...

What is dark suspense? Am I sensing the supernatural or paranormal?

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

What is dark suspense? Am I sensing the supernatural or paranormal?

Dark suspense and horror are synonymous and a dark mystery is actually suspense—go figure. There is debate on this, but the general consensus is that no one wants to be associated with the word “horror.” I don’t mind the merging of suspense and horror, as those two were close to begin with. But where I draw the line is with the merging of mystery and suspense. In a true mystery, the reader and characters are given the same clues and anyone who knows more than these principals becomes a suspect him or herself. In a true suspense, we are party to who the bad guy is practically from the beginning so, consequently, there is no mystery. The driving force in a mystery is solving a crime. The driving force in suspense is to save the day.

Paranormal and supernatural are one in the same and although both can be used in mysteries and suspense novels, neither is required to make them dark. Dark means scary or chilling. Steven King and Dean Koontz are dark suspense (horror) writers.

NL Gassert said...

Thank you.

DanStrohschein said...

Why is "Horror" such a bad word? What happened to that market to create such a bad stigma? It happens to be my favorite genre to read, and the one I write in most of the time.

Regarding the article: What if you start just before the major changing event, so you can give the reader just a tiny glimpse of what the characters' lives were like in the "normal" status, before the change? This is what I have done on my first novel of my latest series, and I think it comes out well. What are your opinions?

Anonymous said...

I must say that I was surprised when I was told that my novel was "too short." I didn't realize that a particular length was a requirement for a successful novel. I recently read an excellent (and quite successful) novel by Robert Ross that was less than 225 pages long. It was long enough to tell the story.

rpenney said...

When you say start from something happening can this be the same as starting from the ending and working through the plot towards the beginning of what happened?