I might have a story to tell, but I don’t know how it should begin.
How do I start?—wait, is it strange that I am asking you how to start my own story? I hope it’s not. In fact, I would really like us to be on equal footing here. Just because I’m telling the story doesn’t mean certain details and inner workings of the process should be kept to myself. Who is to say that I know what’s best for the story? Your ideas and input about it are just as valid as mine, maybe even more so. After all, the meaning of the story—if there is to be one at all—isn’t what I assign to it, and it certainly isn’t fixed. The meaning is moving and changing. Wandering around between us. Mutating. You might see it start to take one familiar shape, but it won’t be long before it deforms itself into something new and unexpected. At least I hope that will be the case. What is the point in telling a story if the meaning is already known to the audience; a well-studied shape? For that matter, why tell a story at all? If the meaning is either a priori knowledge or impossible to hold on to, does meaning in this context even serve a purpose at all? Maybe a story doesn’t need to communicate anything meaningful as long as it is entertaining. You enjoy being entertained, don’t you? Of course you do. Let’s aim for a story that is somewhat entertaining, yet also conveys a meaning which may or may not be known and will likely be indecipherable. That sounds like a reasonable compromise.
That brings me back to my question, how do I start my story? Oftentimes a writer will begin by introducing you to a central character or two, possibly exchanging some charming dialogue between them. A gifted writer might even use imaginative language to paint a vivid mental image of the setting. It’s hard not to admire a writer that can do this really well, especially right at the beginning of a story when they are competing for their readers’ attention with all of the other goings-on outside of the book. I think we can both agree that I am not in the same league as such talented writers, and couldn’t possibly attempt to emulate the beautiful beginnings of their stories without falling flat on my face and melting into an embarrassed puddle of gooey failure.
So what are my options?
One idea is to ignore the beginning entirely. Not that I need you to bypass some sections of the text—although I encourage you to read this story in any manner that pleases you—or anything like that but I just omit the text which would constitute a beginning and we both just carry on as if that is an acceptable way to tell a story. Since we would both be aware of the tactic, neither of us would be at an advantage over the other. It would spare me the trouble of stumbling through some awkward paragraphs, likely written and rewritten dozens of times yet still yielding unsatisfactory results. It would also spare you the trouble of having to figure out just how much of the text is made up of this unpalatable content when determining where to pick up reading again if the beginning didn’t cause you to shelve the story indefinitely. I think this plan could work. Maybe it could start a new movement towards telling stories without beginnings—we’ll have to discuss endings later on—that get right into the action… Come to think of it, I shouldn’t use the word action. Action is a word with a lot of weight to it; too many preconceptions. In the spirit of transparency I should let you know right now that my story is not likely to spike your adrenaline or set your heart racing. That isn’t to say that it’s not exciting. I believe excitement can exist in ample quantities without a trace of action. Hopefully the absence of action will not be a deal-breaker for you.
So what should come next?