Episode 7: Where Does My Story Start?


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Episode 7: Where does my story start?Transcript

Hi, my friends.

Welcome to Amie Kaufman on Writing, a short podcast that answers one question each week about how writers do what they do.

If you’re a writer, or you’re a reader interested in how your favourite authors craft their stories, then you’re in the right place.

This is Season 1, Episode 7: Where should my story start?

As always, here’s my friend and producer Kate with this week’s question. Hi Kate, how are you?

Hi Amie, I’m good!

This week’s question is from Shawn, who says: Can you talk about where to start stories? I feel like I spin my wheels a lot, and I know I need to start somewhere exciting, but it’s not happening.

Oh, Shawn, this one is actually really hard! There’s a lot to say about the start of stories, and we’ll get to more of it in future seasons—please do send in your questions. Personally, I tend to write my way into stories, and I always spin my wheels a little at the start. Not a lot happens, but I’m getting to know my character, and that’s important.

When it comes time to really locate the start of my story, though, I usually find it around chapter three of my first draft, and that’s really common. So, pro tip – go check chapter three and see what’s there.

If that doesn’t magically solve your problem, then two questions you want to ask when you begin a story are:

Why this person, and why this day?

Why is this person the one the story’s about, and why does the story start today, rather than any other day?

To answer the first question—why this person—head back to last week’s episode, episode six, where I talked about how to choose your protagonist.

When it comes to why this day, you’re looking for what happens on this particular day that sets things in motion—that puts our protagonist on the road to adventure. That takes them past a point where things can never be the same.

In The Hunger Games, it’s the day that Katniss sees her sister’s name drawn as tribute. Whatever Katniss does from this moment onward—even if it’s nothing at all, even if she just watches them lead Prim away—everything will have changed.

In The Lord of the Rings it’s the moment Gandalf hands Frodo a ring and tells him he needs to take it somewhere safe for him. Frodo’s been feeling the tug of adventure, been wondering about life, and this is his moment—even if he says no, nothing will be the same after this offer. He’ll always know he said no.

In Star Wars, it’s the day that Luke comes home and finds his home burned to the ground—he still has a lot to learn about everything that’s happened and will happen, but this is the moment when his story starts, because after this, nothing will ever be the same again.

This is definitely something I think about in my own stories—These Broken Stars begins the day our protagonists find themselves shipwrecked together, away from the eyes of the world, finally able to be who they are—assuming they survive, which is a big “if.” Illuminae begins the day Kady and Ezra’s planet is attacked and they have to run for their lives. Aurora Rising begins the day Tyler rescues Aurora from the shipwreck where she’s been drifting in suspended animation for two centuries. The Other Side of the Sky begins the day Nimh decides to stop listening to her teachers and follow a hint from a prophecy, and North falls from his sky city into her world. I could go on and on!

Here’s an exercise: If you’re a writer, ask yourself about this moment in your own story. Why this day? What happens that changes things? If you’re a reader, look at a couple of your favourite books, and ask yourself about this moment at the beginning. What do you see?

That’s all for this week. Next week, I’ll be answering a question about avoiding clichés.

In the meantime, I’ll remind you to subscribe, and leave the podcast a review wherever you listen.  It really helps get the podcast in front of new listeners.

You can find me at my website, which is at amiekaufman.com – you can subscribe to my newsletter there, for behind-the-scenes peeks at how I write, and any other news about new books, events or the podcast. You can also submit a question for the podcast on my website. You can find me on instagram at @AmieKaufmanAuthor or on twitter at @AmieKaufman. This podcast is produced by the lovely Kate Armstrong, host of one of my favourite podcasts, The Exploress, which time travels through women’s history one era at a time. You can find her at theexploresspodcast.com.

For now, thanks so much for listening – enjoy your reading, and enjoy your writing.


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