Let’s analyze the beginning of this story and see how it satisfies the suggestions I made for a good story launch:
Here is a link to the story’s first two chapters:
We will first look at the list I provided in the link below:
Writing Tips: How to Start a Story (The Ordinary World – Part 1)
1. Grab the reader’s attention with a hook beginning
The first sentence is – “I woke to another morning in outer space.”
Since my target audience is 8 to 12 years old, the idea of waking up in outer space seemed like a sufficient hook.
Any thoughts on that?
2. Raise questions that the reader wants answered.
Here are some of the questions that I think readers will raise in the opening:
Why is a twelve-year-old girl in charge of maintenance duties in a space cruiser? How long has she been there? Where are they going? Why was the captain’s son kidnapped? Why is the captain fascinated with Megan and her mother? Is Gavin a traitor? If so, why? What is the mysterious key in Megan’s locket? Why does her mother want it?
I’m sure you can think of more. The point is to raise lots of questions in order to keep the pages turning. It is important to begin answering some questions early in order to keep readers from getting frustrated, but an author can keep some answers secret until the end.
3. Provide a goal for the protagonist
The protagonist should be moving from the very start. Megan’s first goal is simple, to get the captain’s coffee to him. That’s enough to keep her active immediately. Then she gets a bigger, more important goal, to find the source of the noise and fix it. As she continues, the goals get bigger and bigger.
4. Show the protagonist’s qualities and flaws
We see right away that Megan is a hard worker with high aspirations. She is also willing to cut corners to get the job done, which can be good or bad. She also she might be naive about the motivations of others.
Readers need to learn about the protagonist right away. This baseline understand of her qualities allows the reader to notice and measure her changes as the story goes on.
What other qualities or flaws do you see in Megan? (I am still working on that aspect of her and expect to add more later.)
5. Set the physical scene with only essential details
I didn’t describe the spaceship or Megan’s quarters much at all. Most readers will have a default view of a spaceship, so I mentioned only details that come into play during the action or other details that will be important later, such as the access panels, the airlock, and the pressurized suit. Too many details at the beginning can bog a story down. Once readers are hooked on a story, you can add more details.
6. Begin building a bridge to the back story
Build a bridge to the back story by adding bits and pieces as the story progresses instead of dumping a lot of information at once.
The building of the bridge started here – “It was bigger than what I had on The Avenger, my family’s spaceship, but sleeping scrunched together with people I loved was better than sleeping alone in a ship where almost no one liked me.”
I added more here – “my nightshirt that displayed a silhouette of my family’s ship with The Avenger in bold letters.”
Then I added the locket and key with this conclusion – I whispered, “Someday … somehow … I will get you out. And we’ll find Mama together.”
By this time, readers have put some pieces together and are building the back story in their minds. This method keeps the story from slowing down and allows knowledge of the back story to build at the same time.
7. Establish a feeling that a crisis of some sort is coming
The first problem involved a structural failure in the ship, and Megan mentioned having only a wall between her and death in space. These two factors and a few others make readers think that something terrible might be on the horizon. This helps build tension as readers expect a crisis to occur.
8. Complete the journey toward the initial goal by showing success or failure
Megan succeeded in getting the captain’s coffee, and she also repaired the ship, but both were only partial successes. The captain scolded her for imperfect compliance in both goals, and her repair job ended in failure as that hull panel was the vulnerable point in the attack. (I am thinking about having Megan internally blame herself for not checking the panel’s shield.)
Megan’s ultimate goal was to please the captain and thereby give herself a boost in his eyes and those of the crew. Having no parents with her, she longed for significance and acceptance. In this, she failed miserably. The captain died considering her to be a fool who caused their deaths. I expect to show her brooding over this in chapter three.
Such failure breeds compassion in readers’ hearts. They will become emotionally attached to Megan and hope for her success. This attachment is crucial.
Any other thoughts on how the story begins?
Categories: Story Development
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