Knowing When To Start Your Story

Why Is This Day Different? Knowing When To Start Your Story


Writers Write is your one-stop writing resource. In this post, we give you tips on when to start your story. 

If you’re not sure where to start your story, ask yourself: “Why is this day different for my main character?”

This is a tip I picked up from a writing mentor a few years ago and it does help you identify the best jumping off point for your story and one that will get you to the inciting moment.

Knowing When To Start Your Story

It can be a small thing…

In Willy Russell’s classic Shirley Valentine, Shirley’s neighbour asks her to look after her bloodhound while she’s on holiday. Shirley decides to feed the dog her husband’s steak because she doesn’t want a bloodhound eating muesli.

That night her husband reacts violently to not having his usual steak. This incident makes Shirley decide to go a Greek holiday to escape her life of suburban loneliness, and reclaim her own identity away from her husband and children.

See how that simple act of feeding the dog becomes a catalyst for radical change?

… or a big thing!

In Dean Koontz’s thrilling pursuit novel, The Good Guy, Tim Carrier is enjoying his usual solitary beer at his favourite bar when he decides to talk to the stranger on the stool next to him.

He soon realises that he’s been mistaken for a hired hit man and that a woman’s life is in danger — and he’s forced to elude the real hit man, find her, and protect her.

As you can see, this night at the bar is very different for Tim. It’s the night he receives his call to adventure.

Strengths and weaknesses

The events of the day must show your character’s strengths and weaknesses, even a bit of their moral value systems.

In Shirley Valentine, we get the idea that she’s a people pleaser — looking after the dog, making her husband’s supper faithfully — but we also sense she’s got a tiny bit of her rebellious teenage years in her when she gives the dog the steak and stands up to her husband.

In The Good Guy, we get the sense that Tim is a loner, a man of routine and doesn’t want to get involved in anyone else’s life. We also see that he’s a man of principle and won’t let an innocent woman come to harm. He can make a decision on the spot with a clear head and doesn’t show fear.

Pull the rug from under them …

Showing your character on a typical day that goes wrong gives us a clue as to who they are and what may come next. Because in the next few pages whatever sense of normality they have is about to torn apart.

TOP TIP: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. Who Are The Three Characters Driving Your Plot?
  2. Down The Line – Three Ways To Use Inverted Dialogue In Your Story
  3. Five Ways To Kick-Start Your New Short Story

This article has 7 comments

  1. Carrie Lynn Lewis

    Excellent tip. I’ve never before considered asking this simple question to get a story started in the right place. What a wonderful idea!

  2. Katherine Marcella

    The late Isaac Asimov wrote that John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, told him that if he was having problems with the opening of a story, he was starting it at the wrong place, almost certainly too soon. Asimov said he then started his stories as late as he possibly could and that worked out for him….

  3. Amanda Patterson

    This is a great post, Anthony.

  4. Anthony Ehlers

    Thanks … glad the post helps. I think starting Chapter 1 is always the hardest part!

  5. Michelle Wallace

    Insightful, thanks!

  6. Martin Haworth

    What a super reminder. Every day has potential ‘Sliding Doors’ moments. We, as writers simply need to seize them for what they are. Potential stories.

  7. Anthony Ehlers

    Thanks Martin. Sliding Doors is a great example of the choices characters face.

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