Whine: There I was, thinking I was so clever about writing an opening paragraph that will grab my reader’s attention… and yes, it’s a good paragraph. It does grab your attention. But it starts in the middle of the story, and I never did explore the source of the story itself, and why that man in a black uniform is sitting in a cheap bar on Tu Do Street in Saigon in 1968, getting crocked on vodka.
This is many, many moons and some long, long time – not just many moons, but many solar cycles – after i wrote that opening paragraph and I am now much further into this story, finding that if I don’t’ establish what sent that man in black to that bar, then some day, I will have to write what is commonly known as the back story – a lame version of the word ‘history’ – and that is SO wrong. Do it N.O.W.
Hollywood the Industry does the “back story”, which used to be properly titled the “Prologue”, constantly now, mostly because the studios are looking at the cash in the cash drawer and don’t want to stop milking Bossie the Olde Cash Cow. That’s what the entire business is about. And no, the studio executives do not care about anything that does not have a track record of bringing home the bacon. The publishing industry is almost that bad, also, but more likely to take you on even if you can’t show a sales record if you have a new idea.
That’s the real world, whether we like it or not. Sorry about that, but the truth is better learned ahead of time.
The first premise in writing fiction is to get your reader’s attention, hence the need for a good attention-grabbing opening paragraph. Everything else should flow from there. But this is fiction, story-telling, not non-fiction relating real history to the reader.
However – listen up! You are writing a history, because that is exactly what story telling is all about. Long or brief, covering thousands of years or a short week of constant rain, it is a history of some kind, even if it is invented.
Therefore (ergo – Latin for therefore), you (and I) owe it to the readers to ask ourselves “Well, where does this story start?”
So, yes, I did spend the time on the real beginning of the story about the Man In a Black Uniform in a cheap bar on Tu Do Street in Saigon, Vietnam, on the eve of the Tet Offensive. Why? Because he and his Enemy leave a trail everywhere they go and his life’s goal is to destroy the BadGuys because they destroy everything that he cares about.
How does he reach his goal? Well, it’s rather like being on a Mobius strip – you may end up right back where you started, but time has passed and you’ve changed. Do I really want to do it that way? I don’t know. You really can’t go home again, because everything has changed. Maybe it’s better to get off that endless cycle and sit for a spell or head in a new direction.
Back to the (gag!) outlining, planning, asking where does this go, does it really matter, how much do I dig into this, etc., etc., etc., and now I realize that the threshold between just a short novel-length story and an Epic Tale of Random Acts of Kindness and Revenge is going to take a long time to complete, but – well, what the heck! I got myself into this mess, and I will wade myself out of it.
And that is the whole point to telling a story. You want to tell a story, and entertain an audience of some kind. Your people have lives, histories, happy tails, births, deaths, losses, families, no families, problems, bad jokes, issues – you name it, they’ve got it.
Shoulder the burden, roll that stone up the Hill of Despair and keep it from tumbling onto the village below. Wade through the Slough of Despond, and emerge at the end into a far green valley with the sun rising in the east.