DIY Writer’s Retreat: Where to Begin?

At the beginning, of course!

Well, maybe.

Now that we’ve chosen what to write, we must choose where we’re jumping in.

I won’t bother to reiterate ways to begin the opening scene. Ruthanne Reid at The Write Practice already did the heavy lifting in Three Ways to Start a Novel(Read it now or later – but definitely read it!)

On the other hand, we can start by writing the final scene.

I usually begin with endings, with a sense of aftermath, of dust settling, of epilogue. – John Irving, American novelist

Having read and analyzed many short stories, I see why instructors say that nailing down the last scene is a good place to start writing. The short-story writer, like a competent traveler, wants to take the fastest and most direct route to a specific destination.

The following are just a few reasons why this approach works for longer work, too:

  • You’ll keep the end in mind and avoid wasting time on superfluous scenes.
  • Knowing the resolution,  you plant the seeds of the conflict(s) throughout the novel.
  • You’ll know the end to the main plotline and, by extension, which subplots need to be resolved before the final chapter.

What if neither the beginning nor the end appeals to you?

James Scott Bell wrote the appropriately-titled book  Write Your Novel from the Middle (2014).* He contends that the center of any story is a “mirror moment” in which the protagonist clearly sees himself as he is – flawed and the dire consequences of his current trajectory.  Change is the only way to “win” the high-stakes conflict(s).

Writers identify this crisis point and write the “mirror moment” scene. Then they work in opposite directions. Writing backward, they develop character traits, behaviors, and events that led to the central scene. Writing forward, they show the character’s transformation in action, giving the reader a reason to cheer him on.

Whatever starting-point you choose, good luck! I’ll be checking in next week with my progress and more resources.


* And subtitled A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between. Despite the long name, it’s a rather short book.