Sunday, March 6, 2011

Choosing a Beginning and an End

The network of ideas that make a story is a complex web that sometimes reaches far back in time. When you examine everything that leads to your novel's events – the entirety of a story – it's easy to lose track of what the actual narration should be.

White Echoes, for example, is Henry's fight to bring to light a conspiracy that led to the death of thousands civilians, a decade ago. We're already ten years back into time. But what about the events that led to this conspiracy? They involve a war, which is another decade (or about) earlier, in which the villains' brother dies. But even that isn't enough. This death wouldn't bring about the same consequences had my two villains been different people. The events that shape their personality are part of this novel, too.

It's what is called backstory.

So where to start? Where to end? It all depends on what you want this story to be about. There is one constant, however: you should raise a question at the beginning, and only end your novel when it is answered.

I made White Echoes about Henry's struggle. The question is "Can Henry Schmitt uncover the conspiracy?" His decision to try comes at the start(ish) of the story. It's my First Plot Point. Readers will expect to know of his success or failure by the end.

If I'd wanted to make the novel about the villains, the beginning would feature scenes of their youth. I'd establish their characters and kick the action proper with the brother's death. The question raised is different (it'd be related to their goal in all this) and thus, the answer must be, too.

The type of question you raise – the conflict you'll want to resolve – will be bring about a different type of story. Orson Scott Card outlines four types in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, the MICE – Milieu, Idea, Character, Event.

Any story will have more than one of these elements, and I think it should have all of them to some degree. One, however, will predominate and determine what type of question you need to answer before the end.

The MICE story structures are what will occupy most of the next two weeks. Hope you find it interesting!


  1. I heard about MICE In a lot of books. Remember the Characters & Point of View? There's a whole chapter dedicated to the MICE structure. I have to read How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy and you need to read Characters & Point of View!

    Oh and backstory = love!

  2. A great post. And thanks for telling me about MICE! I've been floundering about where to start my story too...

  3. Jude, bluesdarky: Stay tuned it for the next weeks. I split the information on this topic into multiple posts. :)

  4. It's not as exact as using MICE as a guide, but I have always remembered the way Bonnie Hearne Hill (thriller writer) explained finding the start. She said imagine a tea cup sitting on a table cloth. Stand at the other end of the table and start pulling the cloth off the table. When the tea cup is at the edge of the table, start the story. Which is to say, I think, in writing terms, start just before the inciting incident for the current conflict. I was lucky enough to get into Bonnie's critique group for a short time (before she stopped running it to concentrate on her career). Ah, the great stories I heard...