Where to Begin Your Story

A puzzling question for many beginning authors, like myself, is this one: Where do I begin my story?

Do I begin in the middle of the action? Do I begin with the backstory of the setting and characters? Or do I begin, unconventionally, at the end, and then proceed to explain everything that lead to this end?

Beginnings are important and that’s why authors are always anxious about them. Why? Because we know that beginnings are only a set up. A set up for the end.

As I approach the climax of my novel’s first draft, I am reminded of my beginning. I have to remember where I started, what I set up, so that I could follow through with it, so I can tie up all the loose ends, so I can make sense of what I foreshadowed, so I can think about creating closure for my characters, or lack thereof. Like two ends of the same string, the beginning and the end must be tied together, into a knot, in order to finally make a complete circle.

At this point the question no longer is “Where do I begin my story,” but rather, “Where did I begin my story?”  So…

Where did I begin my story?

That is when I began to wonder (as you have noticed I tend to do). A string of events might sum up a character in novel, but does it really sum up a person–a real live person?

Recently, I realized that I had become trapped by the stories I told about myself.  These stories had not allowed me to move forward. The story that said that I was an actor, for instance, delayed me for 3 years to pursue the course that I knew all along in my heart was the right course: to be a writer.

I recently re-read the biography on my “About” page and realized that I was still telling the same story about myself that I had told my readers nearly a year ago. But the stories I told in this bio had passed. What’s more, I had moved passed them. The challenging events that lead me to writing this very blog, where no longer essential to who I was.

Although these challenging events led me here, and I am blessed for what they taught me and how much progress I have made because of them, I am truly passed them. With time comes perspective, and now I no longer saw these events as I had once seen them. I realized that I had become a lot stronger and more capable than I was only a year ago.

Keeping those events as part of my story was not doing justice to how far I had arrived and who I had now become. So it was time to shake that Etch-a-sketch completely, and start with a blank grey screen again.

Now it was with my life, and not with my book, that I asked:

Where do I begin my story?

We should not allow ourselves to be trapped by our stories. You know the ones I’m talking about: I was always the poor kid, the bratty kid, the youngest, the oldest, I never win, I always lose, I’m the nerd, I’m the loner, I was never good at that or this, I went through a hard time once, long ago, I had an awful childhood, my teenage years were just terrible, college was the worst, my middle age what a waste, I fell in love, lost him or her, and I was never the same after that, this person I cared for passed away, I lost my faith, or ran away, or I was lost, or this happened and that happened, etc., etc., etc.

I hate to admit this as a writer, because my work is all about telling stories, but it’s true that we are all more than the stories we tell people about ourselves. A person is far far more than an amalgamation of anecdotes. A person is a growing, changing organism, far more beautiful in his or her constant transformations than as a static, 2-dimensional reenactment plastered on a museum wall.

We are not our history. We are so much more. History doesn’t move, but we move. We must do justice to this constant flux. We must shed all the old stories, to make room for all the brand new ones.

Let us choose more carefully what we say about ourselves. Let us be thoughtful about the stories we tell and cautious about where we chose to begin in the telling of them.

Now, the other night I couldn’t sleep. So I decided to pull out one of the books I was reading, and this one happened to be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. While I was reading, I landed on this quote, which although it is widely popular, I never quite understood until now:

” ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ (said Alice)

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the (Chesire) Cat.

‘I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added in explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’ “

Can we give up the stories we tell about ourselves? The ones that say I am the one who battles with depression, or the one who can never catch a break, who never has the confidence, who always finds it hard making friends, or who is always the victim?

I think that not only can we get past these stories, but that we must get past them.

You see, as long as we don’t care much where we end up in life, and are content with just ending up somewhere, then maybe, the Chesire Cat is right:  it doesn’t matter in which direction we choose to go, or where we choose to start, because in the end, we will always end up at that somewhere. All we need to do is travel “long enough” and we will arrive there.

So, where do I begin my story?

You might still be asking. Well, the answer is simple, even if it isn’t clear:

You may begin wherever you like.

much love,

Ollin

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21 comments on “Where to Begin Your Story

  1. krisceratops says:

    Great post, Ollin! What a perfect quote as well. I am inspired!

  2. ooooh! I so love this post Ollin! You have outdone yourself… again!
    I suspect that this might be some of the most important information we could ever have if we want to experience happiness.
    I often say to myself, “I am not my story”.
    It is a tough one, because it leads tho the question “Who am I?”
    Sometimes, stories become our identity and we actually fear giving them up. If only we understood how free we would be if we did.
    Thanks for helping to make that obvious!
    (PS there are some new comments on your guest post.)

    • Ollin says:

      Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jenny, because I think it was somewhat inspired by your post about labels. Although it’s sort of my take on it.

      I think the answer to the question who am I, is “movement.” We are all “movement.” If that makes any sense whatsoever.

      Oh, and I’ll check my comments thanks!

  3. I suppose as one writes a first draft and finally comes to the end, the author will read the entire MS again. If the essence of the story has changed during its creation, the author may correct whichever begs for alignment, the beginning, the middle, or the end. With all that said, your question and its answer make perfect sense.

    • Ollin says:

      Yes, for me the essence of my story has not changed. But I do have to remember to bring my message full circle, don’t want to let any important points slip through the cracks. Thanks!🙂

  4. Agatha82 says:

    This was such a wise post. It is indeed very true we identify ourselves with these so called “personas” we give ourselves, and most of them are negative labels that really weigh us down and prevent us from doing things. For example, all my entire life, I told myself “I cannot write, I’m not good with words” – Don’t ask me where I got that from, nobody told me it, but somehow, I decided as a kid, that I wasn’t good with words. I was good playing instruments and good at drawing but I sucked at words. This “tagline” stuck until recently, it was only 2 years ago, when I finally decided it was bollocks and a lie. Suddenly, as soon as I negated that “I cannot write” statement, I was able to write…it was all in my head…go figure…

    • Ollin says:

      Isn’t that TRUE, Agatha! They are often negative, why is that? Why are we so obsessed with making our stories tragic ones? I’ve had that tendency for most of my life, and I’m so sick of it. I’m so passed it. It’s time to make my life into a comedy, or at least a something in between.

      I’m so glad you started to tell the story you wanted to tell!🙂

  5. Great ending to the post (about beginnings lol). This is one of the hardest parts for me. I have all the great stuff in the middle but actually putting the first words on the page is very difficult.

  6. 83October says:

    Enjoyed reading this post very much especially since I just wrote the ‘about me’ on my gravatar. It’s always harder for me to write the ‘about’ in my blog or what not. Most often, I find, attempting to describe myself is trying to put a convenient descriptions/label to who I am. And yes, we can get trap in our stories. I once held the victim card and while it was easy to keep living up to that story I knew it was keeping me stuck where I was. I was lucky enough to meet someone wise that told me something along the lines of this post. Anyway, great post!

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks 83! Yeah, it is always weird having to give a bio, or summing up yourself to a new person. I’m not sure why we demand this of each other, I guess you can’t help it, you need some point of reference, but it never gives anyone the full pictures. That’s why I love blogging, if you read a person’s blog long enough you really do start to get a more complex and fluid picture, and that does justice to the individual I think. I’m glad you liked it!🙂

  7. jannatwrites says:

    It’s funny how our lives parallel a novel. Where our life begins depends on where we start looking at it. (For me, I choose to ignore childhood…I’ll start around age 16.) In a novel, you can jump in anywhere you want to start the story (I’m not an expert, but I’ve heard NOT to start with backstory.)

    From the point in time we start to look at our life until the present moment, there should be some growth in ourselves (if not, we are “stagnant”.) Likewise, the MC in the novel should evolve.

    In the novel, the plots should be played through and neatly tied up by the end. If we look back on our lives and find loose threads, we should address those too. Maybe more study of our personal history would give us insight as to what our future should look like…

    • Ollin says:

      Haha, tell me about it. My life ALWAYS parallels my novel. I don’t think its a coincidence that’s all we have to write with anyway right?

      I like what you mentioned in the last part, you are SOOO right. There are things that happened at the beginning of OUR stories that need to be tied up, loose ends and such. Great insight!🙂

  8. milkfever says:

    After a while away from blogging, it’s so lovely to come back and read posts such as this one. I adore the quote from Alice. And it’s so perfect for where I am in my life right now. Thanks for sharing your warmth and wisdom, Ollin.

  9. I really, genuinely liked this post, Ollin. It has me considering beginnings in a whole new light, and you write so clearly and agreeably. You’re an amazing person!

    • Ollin says:

      Hehe, are you saying you didn’t genuinely liked my other posts, lol!😉 Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. And thank you for your kind words!🙂

  10. loved the way you ended this – a master piece!

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