Sometimes, starting a piece of fiction can be one of the most daunting and difficult elements of the whole process. This post will suggest some ways in which you might wish to begin a story or piece of flash fiction, and hopefully serve as an aid if you are struggling to do so. These are just my personal thoughts, and approaches that have worked for me. It would be excellent to hear what you might think about openings – do leave comments below with your thoughts.
In medias res, or, starting in the middle of things
In medias res is a technique in which a story begins in the middle of the action. It’s an old technique – The Iliad and The Odyssey both begin with their characters in medias res – but that does not make it any less effective. Sometimes, you might have the idea for a character and a situation that you want that character to be in. However, you might be struggling to work out how to get them into that situation. If this is the case, start in medias res! It will get you straight into the action, and often you will find that by beginning in this way, other aspects of the plot will work themselves out and you will feel more inspired.
Beginning in medias res also has the added benefit of drawing your reader in – they will want to know how things have got to this point. You will have them hooked far more swiftly than if you had spent ages building up to that point of action.
This is a technique that I have mentioned on the blog before (you can read about why I find it so valuable here). I find it a highly effective technique when it comes to creating story openings too. If you regularly write free-form, you’ll find that you might start to create some striking images or phrases.
You could pick one of these as a story opening. If you have picked a description, then think about how this might have come to be. If your chosen phrase seems more like a thought, then work out who might be thinking it, and why they might be thinking it. You’ll soon find a world of story forming around your chosen phrase, and from there you can build characters, setting, plot.
Get out and about
You’re not likely to be inspired if you are simply sat before a blank piece of paper or computer. Wherever you might live, getting out and about can really help to inspire your mind. A walk might give your mind the space to think more freely – you’ve probably found that some of your best ideas have come when you are just going about your everyday life and are not actually focused on writing at all.
You may also find that whatever you see and hear, whether in a countryside landscape, a busy town or busier city might provide inspiration for the opening of a story. This might be in the form of a location, or perhaps the basis for a character. You might find yourself with unanswered questions based on what you see, hear, smell. You have the chance to answer those questions through the creation of a story.
A common thread
Those are my top three suggestions when it comes to finding inspiration for a story. You will notice that a common thread running through all three of them is that of creating moments. These could involve a character, a setting, a line of dialogue. What you can then do is think: how did we get here? Why is a character in a certain situation? What is happening in your setting? Who is speaking, and why? Creating something which you as a writer can then ask questions of is key to creating openings to stories.
I hope this has proved of some help, and that you feel you can use these different techniques. I look forward to hearing how you get on.
Ned Vessey, Blog Co-Ordinator
Read this blog post on Medium here.