Written by A Guest Author November 24th, 2022

Where Do I Start?

By Emily-Jane Hills Orford

This question, where do I start, usually refers to the writing process. Writers are good with ideas, good with sorting through the mesh of plot patterns, characters, setting and how one visions the story unfolding. Writers are told it’s best to begin with a plot map, although many, like me, dive right into the story anxious to see how it flows.

But, where to start, where to begin the story – now that’s the big dilemma and sometimes those opening lines are the hardest to write. Just like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, it all begins with just one piece. You put it in place and then you find another piece and make it fit. There’s a lot of shuffling around, sorting through pieces, trying to make them fit, then putting them aside for later. In the end, all the pieces fit. And, so it will for the story. Does it really matter where you start? Or will the beginning unveil itself in the process of writing and piecing together the story?

When you think about it, writing a story is like facing anything else in life. There is always a jumble of solutions and an equally if not more convoluted jumble of questions, but sometimes the answer lies right in front of us. Perhaps the most profound wisdom I’ve ever received is, that “we go through life asking questions.” It’s so true and so relevant when tackling any big project.

And, believe me, writing a story (short or long) is like tackling any other big project. We pick up a piece of furniture at Ikea and realize we have to put it together. The instructions aren’t very good, and the mess of pieces laid out on the floor make absolutely no sense and it doesn’t look anything like the item you saw in the store.

So, where do you begin? Remember, you can always quit and take the item back to Ikea, but, then you wouldn’t have the item you wanted in the first place.

There’s no quitting if you are really determined to face the writing challenge head on. So, dive in, write and let the words, quite literally, speak for themselves.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Go for a walk: If you have a dog, use the dog as your muse and talk to him/her as you walk. If you don’t have a dog, walk by yourself and talk to yourself. Out loud. Who cares if someone looks at you strangely. You are, after all, a writer. I find a good walk clears the muddle in my head. Perhaps another form of exercise would work better for you, like cycling, jogging, or slogging it on the treadmill.
  2. Make a list of keys points: I lean heavily on my lists. I may not look at the list often, but the simple act of writing it out helps set my plot in action and gives it direction. Remember, this is a brief list, a cheat list, like some students create to help focus their studies for the big exam.
  3. Make a list of characters: This doesn’t have to be all inclusive as characters will appear in the story as it unravels, but the key characters are the ones you want to identify right away. I also find it helps to provide sub-lists for each character that outlines their unique qualities, like their appearance, their likes and dislikes, whether they are good or evil. These points may or may not be used in the story, but they help keep me focused on who I envision these characters to be.
  4. Start at the beginning, start in the middle, start at the end: It’s interesting that cross-stitch patterns insist you begin your work in the middle. I never do, as I find this process to be counter productive. However, in the writing process, the choice of where to begin is ultimately yours. I prefer to start at the beginning, though that beginning may change as the plot progresses and my initial beginning may morph into something that happens later in the story. If you have one of those lightbulb moments that spark an idea for later in the story, just it down, or spend time actually writing it. It’ll fit in when you reach that point in the story, perhaps with some fine tuning and changes. Starting at the end? Well, as writers, we usually have a clear idea of where we want the story to go, but the ending for me always remains a shadowy light at the end of a long tunnel until I actually get closer to the end. Unless you’re writing a mystery novel and you already know who did it. Good mysteries like to sum things up at the end, so this summing up process might help you develop the rest of the plot.
  5. Commit to a title (at least for now): I usually have a title in mind before I start writing, though sometimes I have more than one title to consider. I always write these titles at the beginning of my rough draft, so I don’t forget my blossoming ideas. You don’t need to have a title before you start, but I find it helps, even if I use something totally different when the story goes out to publishers.
  6. Write the synopsis: Sometimes writing the synopsis before you start writing the actual story helps focus your ideas, giving the story development a clear directive. I usually write the synopsis after I’m well immersed in the writing process. It doesn’t have to be the final synopsis you’ll use upon publication, but it does help with the writing process itself and keeping the plot on track.
  7. It’s okay to write badly: Well, at least initially. The point is to get writing. You can improve the writing style once the first draft is complete. As long as you keep writing and moving forward in the process, good or bad writing is allowed. Just make sure you do a thorough edit.
  8. Make things up as you plough ahead: Being a writer means being creative. As the story progresses, new ideas will pop into your head. Write them down; include them in the first draft. You may remove them later if they no longer fit, but the important thing is to write what you’re thinking, while the thoughts are still clear in your head

Remember the Ikea furniture analogy? Yes, if you want that piece of furniture, you have to put it together one way or another. It’s the same with your story. If you want your grand idea written down, then you have to do the writing. There is no magical formula on how the writing process begins or evolves. How you do it, is totally up to you. The important thing is that you don’t procrastinate because you’re not sure where to start. No one is going to judge you because you started in the middle or at the end of your story, or if you created a title before you started writing.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford is a country writer, living just outside the tiny community of North Gower, Ontario, near the nation’s capital. With degrees in art history, music and Canadian studies, the retired music teacher enjoys the quiet nature of her country home and the inspiration of working at her antique Jane Austen-style spinet desk, feeling quite complete as she writes and stares out the large picture window at the birds and the forest. She writes in several genres, including creative nonfiction, memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction. http://emilyjanebooks.ca




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