Most successful fiction today is based on a structure that uses a series of scenes that interconnect in a very clear way to form a long narrative with linear development from the posing of a story question at the outset to the answering or that question at the climax.
~~ Jack M. Bickham
There was a wonderful time, not so long ago, when a writer planning to produce a novel could start virtually with her main character’s birth, or at least as early as his early childhood, and simply tell almost the entire story of a person’s life. But readers today are more hurried and impatient — and jaded by swiftly paced television drama; they want condensation, speed and punch.
…So it’s not very likely that you’re going to be able to start page 1 of your story “at the beginning” as you may have imagined it in planning the entire flow of the yarn. You are going to have to find a time later than a character’s birth or earliest childhood.
…How, then, do you know where to start?
…the professional writer today will pinpoint those few days, weeks or months in the character’s life span that form the dramatic core of his existence; the writer will then present only that brief time span in the manuscript — …perhaps flash back to earlier life events (but only if absolutely necessary), and giving nothing whatsoever of later events in the character’s long life.
It will help you to select such a late starting point and early ending point for your story if you will remember the following facts about readers:
1. They are fascinated and terrified by significant change;
2. They want the story to start with such a change;
3. They want to have a story question to worry about;
4. They want the story question answered in the story ending;
5. They will quickly lose patience with everything but material that relates to the story question.
…..Here is a brief game plan you might try:
1. …..look for and identify in terms of days, weeks and months the briefer period of time when “the big stuff happens.”
2. Think hard about your most major character and what makes him tick — what his self-concept is, and what kind of life he has built to protect and enhance it.
3. Identify or create a dramatic situation or event which will present your character (and your reader) with the significant, threatening moment of change.
4. Plan your plot so that your novel will open with this event.
5. Decide what intention or goal your most significant character will select to try to fix things after the threatening opening change. Note what story question this goal will put in the reader’s mind.
6. Devise the start of a plan formulated by your most significant character as he sets out to make things right again.
7. Figure out how much later — and where and how — the story question will finally be answered. You should strive to know this resolution before you start writing. …even recognizing that your plan for the resolution may change later — you should have more than a vague idea when you begin.
8. Plan to make the start and end as close together in time as you can, and still have room for a minimum of 50,000 words of dramatic development.
–> 28,339 <–
Bickham, J. (1999). Scene and structure (p. 4, 7, 9-10). Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.