The Only Way to Start a Story is…


Many self-proclaimed writing experts will tell you that the only way to start a story is with “motivation” or “a strong plot” or “structure.”

Those things are all important, but they aren’t required at the start. The only thing required at the start is that you care.

When I studied literature in college, one of my biggest obsessions was figuring out where great authors got the ideas for their stories. To my delight, every author I studied had a different answer.

For some, like Faulkner, it was an image. He would get the image long before he understood what it meant, and he would start dreaming and writing the story around it.

Or, to look at a much better writer who’s alive and writing today, N. K. Jemisin first got the idea for her Broken Earth trilogy from a dream. In the dream, she saw a woman who had a mountain floating behind her and was, I quote, “pissed.” She had no idea why this woman was so angry, but she discovered that as she wrote the story.

For others, it was an argument. Plenty of authors got started hoping to prove someone else wrong. Whether they succeeded in that, we all got the benefit of their stories.

And yes, there are even those writers who get started with a process, or a number of words they need to write each day, or a total number of books they need to publish before they die. They begin utterly indifferent to what the story will mean, what it will sound like, or even if it’s good. They just care enough to start writing and improve the story along the way.

So why does this all matter?

Because you can’t let anyone else tell you how to start your story. It’s your fucking story. God picked you to write it, not them.

Yes, you can and should seek advice along the way. Yes, you do need to have an open mind. Yes, you probably should make radical changes to your concept between starting and finishing.

How you begin your story should be just like the way you make a baby: you decide how and when it happens, and nobody else gets to join in unless you ask them to.

Now go start a story. Your story, however it makes sense to you.