Start a Story with a Plot

You know you want to write a story and you have a killer plot twist–what if one identical twin betrays the other in some way? Betrayal is a powerful plot device, and you think having one twin turn on the other makes it even more powerful. You’re not sure if the betrayal comes at the beginning, middle, or end, but it’s pivotal to the story. But that plot twist is all you have so far. How do you start a story with a plot? I have some suggestions to provide inspiration.

Since we are dealing with betrayal, this plot point can take one of two general flavors …

Epic or Everyday?

Do you want the bad twin to betray the good one to a merciless wizard who is attacking the magical kingdom of which the good twin is the queen? Or do you want the bad twin to betray the good one to the Nazis as they try to escape occupied France? Or does the bad twin betray the good one by stealing her husband in present-day Los Angeles?

Deciding whether the betrayal fits within an epic story or an everyday one will make huge strides in helping you decide the shape of your story. One way to choose is to look at what you enjoy reading. If your favorite stories are epic adventures of fantasy, then you will have the most success writing in that genre since you know it so well. If you love historical fiction, select a favorite time in history and research it.

Who are the Characters?

You know your main characters are identical twins. So uncovering their family history is critical for their development. Are they male or female twins? Which parent do they resemble? Act like? For the betrayal to mean anything, they have to be close and not just because they are identical twins. What makes them close? A shared interest or talent? A traumatic past?

Once you’ve established a bit of their past, dive into their personalities. Even if they are identical twins, they have differences. What are they? Do these differences lead to the betrayal?

Where do these Characters Live?

What would be a good setting for this betrayal? I’ve already mentioned a magical kingdom, Nazi-occupied France, and current-day Los Angeles. What kind of people inhabit each of these settings? If the characters are human, then at their core, there’s something common to them, regardless of setting. But how can these or other settings influence the people the twins have become?

When choosing major settings, you only have to concern yourself with this one question: is the setting one you know or would like to know? Never pick a major setting you have no interest in. For example, let’s say you choose to set your story in Nazi-occupied France because you think that will give your betrayal added depth. But you haven’t read much historical fiction, don’t care much for France, and loathe history research. Your story will never get past the idea stage.

Selecting settings you know personally well or are eager to research will make writing your story much less of a chore and provide ideas on how the topography, climate, weather, architecture, history and local inhabitants will affect the plot.

For more inspiration on plotting, click here.

How do you start a story with a plot?

Writing Tip — Start With Action

Like a lot of new writers, I began my stories with two misconceptions: (1) That my characters were fascinating to everybody, and (2) I should start my story by showing my characters following their normal routines. Once readers got to know my characters, I’d bring in the problem or event that changed their ordinary lives and kick off the plot. I didn’t think I needed to start with action

Now I know better. My characters will never fascinate readers in the same way they do me, just like my kids will never fascinate the other people the way they do my husband and me. Also most daily routines are boring. Boring readers for a couple of chapters, if they last that long, should not be the goal of any writer.

Looking back, I see why I started like that. It was easier to introduce characters and backstory without having a pesky plot to deal with. Dribble in characters and description and backstory while the plot is under way? That’s hard!

At first, I didn’t think I could do it. But as I pushed through revisions of my first novel, it became a game. What nuggets of information could I drop into this scene that would flesh out characters or settings without slowing the plot? Rather like a snowboarder surfing the half-pipe and judging how many moves she can work in without losing momentum.

When I came to write “A Rose from the Ashes”,my YA mystery, I had several false starts. I need to start with action but which one? A mystery should be mysterious, but if I wasn’t careful, I easily could go from mysterious to confusing. I’ve set aside many novels in which the characters in the first chapter know a lot more than I do. Instead of these hints of a bigger story being intriguing, they are just frustrating. I give up.

I decided to keep the opening scene simple. I stopped trying to be clever. I described the scene as my main character experienced it. Here’s the first paragraph:

Glancing left and right, I crunched across the frozen weeds to the abandoned children’s home. I could not afford to be spotted now. If only I could take a few seconds and snap some pictures. The light from the early December sunset was perfect. Gashes of blood-red light seeped through the clotted clouds, creating an ominous background for the gray stone building that was rumored to be the scene of a murder.

So I start with my main character approaching a derelict building and not wanting to get caught doing so. Why doesn’t she want to get caught? There are many reason readers can imagine, and I hope that was enough of a hook to keep them reading. Readers don’t know who the narrator is yet and don’t have to at this point. The character’s fear of being spotted and the creepiness of the scene puts the reader in the character’s shoes and keeps them reading.

If you have an opening paragraph with action, please put it in the comments below. Or if you’ve read a particularly effective opening with action, please share it!

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