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Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesting : Tips and Advice • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesting

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Matt Janacone
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Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesting

Postby Matt Janacone » Sun Jul 31, 2016 8:33 am

It was one of one of my coming-of-age moments as a writer.

When I began my journey as a writer, I did not really grasp or perhaps a more precise way to put it I was not even aware that all stories had a beginning, middle, and an end. I just wrote very innocently, with no strategy or story structure in mind, just the dream of getting published.

I recall my aunt saying after she had read an essay I wrote called “Confrontation with the Semicircle” that I had kind of ruined it for her, that I had ruined the piece by giving away the best part of it too early—like in the first sentence. I may have even been in the first sentence. Whatever it was, I had written the essay prematurely.

My coming-of-age moment cane when I watched an independent film called “Smoke” (1995) with William Hurt who plays a NYC novelist who had recently lost his pregnant wife.

Anyway, in the film he is teaching a troubled teenage boy about story structure or timing in a story. I will try to paraphrase the short conversation they had about it.

Hurt tells the boy that a man, after losing his father after avalanche that had devoured his father while skiing, years later is skiing on that same mountain when he comes across a man frozen under the ice like a dinosaur in “Jurassic Park” only in this particular case it would be “Jurassic Mountain”, and he discovers this man is his father who looks as old as his son is now.

The boy says to Hurt, “Is that it?”

“No,” Hurt says, “it’s just the beginning, when things start to get interesting.”

“It’s just the beginning”—a very important concept I had to grasp if I wanted to become a kind of a writer, and at the moment, watching that film, I got it.

When I come up with an idea for a story—and sometimes I do not see it in my one-page
“paragraphical” outlines—I have to understand the difference between not only the beginning, middle and end of it but also just when the story starts to get interesting, when the engine of the story starts. You might think of it as the premise of the story, but that is too literary or even academic of an explanation for me.

Yes, it is important to understand the beginning, middle and end to a story, but it is also absolutely critical, absolutely critical when the story just starts to get interesting.

I recall writing, for example, the novella “Dose of Her Own Medicine”. Toward the end of the story—and I am risking the chance of spoiling the story—Elizabeth, a biologist on death row, realizes that if the law tracks her ex-husband down, he could save her life from the death penalty, thus restoring her freedom, flipping it to fame.

This was Act II of the novella. The novella was good. I thoughts so and so did my wife who had edited it. Her only complaint was that I had not “embellished my thoughts enough” which she had wished I had.

Then came my discovery of screenwriting, which would lead to the demise of writing novellas, probably for good.

I had been adapting some of my novellas to scripts. I was working on “Dose of Her Own Medicine” when I realized something. The story could have been much, much better if the beginning of the script if Elizabeth, on death row, escapes the transport to a state prison and now on her own as a fugitive tries to track down her ex-husband for the dose of the medicine she had discovered in the rain forests of Brazil that she believes will cure AIDS.

This new plot strategy opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the script, mainly in Act II. Where “Dose” had originally ended or climaxed, the FBI tracking down her ex-husband in New Orleans while she waited on death row, I would now begin the script, Elizabeth, the fugitive, tracking down her husband on her own.

Knowing the beginning, middle and end of your story is not enough. You must also know the precise point when your story starts to get interesting, the only exception being if you are writing the story with a sequel in mind, which had happened when I wrote the novella “Indiana Jane”.

So, to be a successful story teller, holding your readers’ attention with laser focus until the end, is so absolutely critical, so it is not only absolutely critical to know not only the beginning, middle and end of your story but also its official beginning—just when things start to get interesting.

More articles visit http://writermattjanacone.blogspot.com/

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Dreaming Imrryr
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Re: Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesti

Postby Dreaming Imrryr » Fri Sep 09, 2016 10:31 am

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Last edited by Dreaming Imrryr on Tue Oct 31, 2017 3:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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devildogwhite
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Re: Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesti

Postby devildogwhite » Fri Sep 09, 2016 1:05 pm

There is no Miss Zarves. There is no nineteenth story. Sorry.

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pls
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Re: Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesti

Postby pls » Sat Sep 10, 2016 8:12 am

Too many posts here start before the story really starts. That''s why I don't care for most prologues, which keep the reader away from the story.
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Re: Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesti

Postby shadowwalker » Sat Sep 10, 2016 8:45 am

I agree for the most part that one should engage the reader very quickly - but I also think one should be careful not to "try too hard" to do so. Too often, writers think engaging means immersing, when curiosity is more than sufficient. And, not to digress into yet another debate about prologues, this is why it's not always necessary to pop the reader in at the starting line. Often it's just as interesting to watch the preparation before the gun goes off.
"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

It's really not that hard. Just tell me a story.

James A. Ritchie
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Re: Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesti

Postby James A. Ritchie » Tue Sep 13, 2016 9:18 pm

Too many new writers think "interesting" or "engage", means action of the kind that kills someone, or blows something up, etc. It doesn't. It merely means piquing the reader's curiosity and interest. As long as the reader wants to know what happens next, you're doing it right.

You do have to engage a reader from the first, but what else would you want to do? Why would you write a single sentence, whether it's the first line, the last line, or a line on page two ninety-six, that doesn't engage and interest the reader?

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TwoStepCharlie
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Re: Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesti

Postby TwoStepCharlie » Wed Oct 05, 2016 12:08 pm

I agree about hooking the reader somewhere within the opening pages, but I'm not going to club them over the head to get them onto the deck of my boat.

What I keep uppermost in mind is that the attention-span of readers has shrunk in this era, to little more than that of goldfish. The general reading public today is mesmerized by sword-and-sorcery schlock, alpha-billionaire-please-sweep-me-off-my-feet romances, vampires, BDSM, and other lightweight fluff. Everything under the sun which has a shiny bell or a whistle screwed on the hood, is turned into a mindless franchise of 5-6 books. Same thing in movies and TV. Whatever the venue, 'serial' products seem to rule.

Well. So what. I'm sure as hell, not going to dumb-down my writing to suit the voracious, bottom-feeding kind of 'series readers' so common out there lately. I place a reasonably deep-set 'hook' in my first few pages but if they don't get it, too bad. I trust my own instincts more than any formula -for-success.

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(Sammy Davis said that, and said it well)
Blow up the bridge?!

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Crono91
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Re: Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesti

Postby Crono91 » Wed Oct 05, 2016 12:51 pm

I think of writing the same way I think of fractals.

A fractal is like a growing fingerprint. The mountain has a certain shape to it. If you go to the microscopic levels in a mineral in that mountain, it will also have the same shape. The small reflects the large. To me, a novel is the same. Your first sentence should reflect your first paragraph, your first page, your first chapter, your first three chapters, your first act, and your first book. This is why it's dangerous to take the advice of too many people. Multiple growth patterns creates a confusing and insincere story.

If you're told to start your book off with action to get it interesting, and the rest is a slow romance, the fractal growth is going to be displaced. Make it interesting in reference to the story itself.

---

I think, personally as well, what you mean to say is that you should know when one breath in your story ends, and another begins. Too many stories begin with a long breath. It drags on far too long. Try breathing out for as long as you can; you'll notice at the end how strained and thin the air is--that's uninteresting. A sentence should reflect the paragraph, page, chapter, and book. The breath is the same. Think of a sentence as a single breath. A paragraph as a single breath. A page. A Chapter. A book. None of it should reach that point where it's thin and uninteresting.

Thus, the first sentence should be interesting. And often, when writers get to chapter three, they're still breathing out, explaining too much, stuck on the same topic, not really moving. They need to end their breath, and reinvigorate the book with another breath. Know when something is interesting, and when something is uninteresting.

Keep that in mind when reading books, hearing people speak, reading articles, and even your cohort's replies. Image each point, sentence, and paragraph as a breath.
Be proud of your mistakes when they form from blinding passion. But now edit them.

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Crono91
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Re: Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesti

Postby Crono91 » Wed Oct 05, 2016 12:57 pm

Be proud of your mistakes when they form from blinding passion. But now edit them.

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TwoStepCharlie
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Re: Writing—know just when the story starts to get interesti

Postby TwoStepCharlie » Thu Oct 06, 2016 12:18 pm

Blow up the bridge?!

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