It’s one thing to say that every story has a beginning. It’s another altogether to conceptualize and execute the beginning of a work of fiction. As I’ve said elsewhere:
Storytelling problems are storytelling problems: they are expressly not problems of grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage, language or syntax.
They are also not problems of critical study. Learning how to write stories by reading stories (even thousands of stories) can’t be done any more than can learning how to play music by reading music. And if it seems that last sentence should read that you can’t learn how to “write music by reading music,” instead of “play music by reading music,” then you are at the heart of the matter.
Being a storyteller is to storytelling as being composer and musician and instrument (analogous to the distinctiveness of an author’s “voice”) are to music. Where critical analysis can teach how various techniques have been used by various authors, storytelling requires that the author learn when a given technique should be used, and how they themselves will use that technique as part of their voice.
To begin a story, whether for the first time or next, is to do more than simply merge imagination with the tenets of craft. It is also to embark on an inherently solitary and fragile pursuit. So before we entertain Rust Hills’ comments about what the beginning of a story should do, I want to take a moment to talk about the beginning of the writing process. [ Read more ]