After writing a blog last week on what makes a good ending to a story, and then following that up with another post on being frustrated with the middles of some books, I thought I might as well round it off by writing about the beginnings of stories.
We all have been told the same thing over and over through school (and for some people, university) about how to write the beginning of a story – it has to be catchy, something that hooks the reader and reels them in straight away. In the history of literature this is still a relatively new approach, but it definitely is important, although, to be honest, it is also a little obvious.
It was one of my favourite university lecturers and tutors who told me about Russian physician and writer Anton Chekhov’s approach to writing the start of a story, and it is this approach which has always stuck with me. Essentially, Chekhov believed that when you finish writing the first draft, whether it be a short story, novel, or anything in between, you should take the first third of the story, quite literally tear it from the rest (or delete it), and write that third again. Why? Because he believed that even with the most detailed planning, you don’t really feel the story, get into the mood, atmosphere and style, until you are a third of the way into the writing, by which point these aspects are firmly established and remain appropriate and fitting for the rest of the story. So by going back afterwards and rewriting the first third, it should help the story to flow better.
Of course, this may seem a little extreme, and I am not advising to adhere to this rule precisely nor am I confessing I myself work accordingly. But I do agree with the general gist of what Chekhov was trying to say – even the stories I have planned, I have found only really take shape once I am a considerable way into the story. For me personally, I tend to rewrite the whole story once the first draft is finished, but I know this is extreme and I am just very strange. But it is definitely worth at least considering Chekhov’s point of view, especially when you next edit or rewrite a story.
What do you think? Do you agree with Chekhov’s approach to writing and editing the beginning of a story, or do you think it’s too extreme? How do you write/rewrite the beginning of your stories?