Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Where Should We Begin a Story?

Every story must begin somewhere, but how are we to decide where we should begin? To say to begin at the beginning is not enough.

The beginning is that point in the protagonist’s life at which the change that takes place during the story is most needed and yet he is not motivated to change. The original Star Wars (episode IV) begins at a point when the rebels are on the verge of defeat. This is made obvious by the small rebel ship what is out gunned and swallowed by the much larger ship. What they need is a hero. Down on the planet, our protagonist is living out the life of a farmer. He longs for something more, but he will keep doing what he is doing.

What if the story began sooner, say when he first arrived on that planet? We would have been bored. What about even sooner. There are three movies set before this time, so there was plenty going on, but Luke was the protagonist in none of those. Those are the story of other people.

What if the story began later, when Luke discovers his aunt and uncle dead? We wouldn’t understand why Luke willingly followed the old man. It is necessary to establish the need for change before change begins to take place.

The beginning is influenced by our choice of protagonist and the change he must experience. The change a man needs may be very different than what his wife needs, so if we were to choose her as the protagonist, we might being in a very different place. Or even if we use the same protagonist and deal with a change in his relationship with his boss instead of with his parents, the beginning will be different.

So, where do we begin? We begin at a place that illustrates the problem that needs fixing, without explaining the details of how we ended up with this problem in the first place.