The Write Place
Point of Change
Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.
Beginnings are so vitally important to your work. Editors – everywhere – get inundated with manuscripts every day and it is your job to make sure yours stands out from the rest. How do you do this?
The first thing you need to do is have a great beginning. An editor will sit down to read your manuscript and if you haven’t grabbed their attention within the first three to five pages, then they won’t read any further. It doesn’t matter if you have a great scene in chapter two. It doesn’t matter if the end of chapter one is the best thing you’ve ever written. They’ll never see it because your beginning didn’t have what it takes to make the grade.
Over the years, I’ve judged several Opening Chapter competitions and usually 1 in 10 of the entries, start at the point of change.
Now the point of change should be where every single story begins. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing – short stories, poems, memoirs, full manuscripts – if you don’t start at the point of change, the editor isn’t going to hang around and wait for that change to come. So then the question becomes – how do you find the point of change?
There are a few things you need to look at first.
• What genre are you writing for?
• What is the basic structure of your story?
• What is the theme of your story? What is the underlying message you want to convey to your readers?
• Where will your story be set? Location? Where is it going to take place? Do you need to do research for this?
• What is the proposed time frame?
• What season does the story start in? Will it be raining? Snowing? Burning hot?
• Who are your characters?
• As you’re getting to know your characters, find out what their motivations are? Their goals and conflict?
Now, take a close look at your characters and ask yourself – where does their story start? Not their individual hang-ups, but their story. You have your main protagonist(s) – so when do their lives completely and utterly change?
Gary Larson, creator of the Far Side, said that when he draws, he starts with a point. Which angle is his picture going to come from? Once he has that angle, he then fills out the frame accordingly. It’s the same for writers. Once we have that point of change, we can begin to tell the story.
Even doing all of my research doesn’t necessarily guarantee that I’m going to start the book in the right place every time. In fact, one very important piece of information I will share with you is this:
I never know where my story really starts – until I’ve written all the way through to the end.
When I rewrite, it’s usually the first 3-4 chapters that get make-over after make-over, after make-over and the end chapters usually just need some fine turning because by the end of the book, I know who my characters really are. By then, I’ve been living intimately with them for months, knowing every thought and feeling every emotion. Once I have finished my first draft, I can then go back and ensure the beginning is actually the beginning.
Remember, your characters get up every morning, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, eat dinner, go to bed. They do this day in day out without anything out of the ordinary happening to them and then one day – BAM! Something completely beyond their control happens and their lives change forever.
So to begin, take a look at what you’re writing and ask yourself, does it really start at the point of change?
Remember – you can fix a bad page, you can’t fix a blank page.
See you next time for more inspiration and instruction from The Write Place.
© Copyright, Anne Lucy Clark, The Write Place, March 2017.
23/08/2017 / Kit Densley