At the latest meeting of my writing group, our focus was on a nonfiction piece that one of our members is sinking her teeth into. It’s a complex story with many dimensions to it: cataclysmic historical events, family drama, and individual heroism. Figuring out exactly how to enter the tale — what the gateway into it is — has proven to very challenging. My writing buddies and I all weighed in with our ideas about what to focus on.
Listening to everyone talk, I realized once again how tricky it is to find just the right opening to a story. Often, there are so many possible entry points that it can be very confusing to sort through them all. Each different point of entry involves a different narrative thread — and each thread can have a huge impact on how the story spools out going forward.
Making these choices can be very confusing, mainly because often, there’s no one right choice. Sure, sometimes an opening is so strong that it seems to be inevitable — as if it were written in the sky and plucked from it and set down on the page. But more often, there are several gateways into a story that might work equally well. Choosing among them can be very problematic.
I remember reading that when J.K. Rowling was working on her first Harry Potter book, she played around with a number of openings; some were very dramatic and even violent. But in the end, she opted for a slow start to her story — an “extraordinary things happen on an ordinary day” approach that eased readers into her tale instead of jolting them into it. I wonder what thought process went into her final choice. Write on!