Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Teach & Talk T-day: Jeigh Meredith

Guest Post by Jeigh Meredith. She lives in a fantasy world most of the time. In order to appear "normal", she decided to make her world into a "story" and tell people she was a "writer". When she's not visiting the depths of her mind, she spends her time trying not to talk to herself in public, bathing her children once a week, and reading freakishly fast.
Her blog: www.writerbrained.blogspot.com and Twitter @jeighmeredith

How to Train Your Story

I’ve changed the beginning of my story, oh, pshhhh, let’s see…a lot of times now. I think it’s pretty close to where I want it to be, but it took a long time to get here. (And lots of weeping, and slaughtering of sacred cows, and writerly re-stitching [and I’m not so hot on sewing.])
I thought, in my first draft, that my beginning was great. So great. And then, it turned out it was not great. Not even good. I was confused. I’d read that the beginning should have an inciting incident, something to propel the protagonist into the story. At first, it was too weak. In later drafts, I just started with a bunch of explosions, because explosions=action and action=propellage. It was too explody.
After a lot of angsty pondering/sulking, I watched “How to Train Your Dragon”. My story-starting-incident-inducing-action-protag-propelling lightbulb blazed to life. It made sense to me. Now, I realize HtTYD does, in fact, start with explosions. But beyond that, what it has is a good pace, excellent description, and world-building that draws you in naturally. I love it. Here are some of my favorite lines:
“[The village] has been here for seven generations but every building is new.”
“That’s Stoic the Vast, chief of the tribe. They say that when he was a baby, he popped a dragon’s head clean off its shoulders. Do I believe it? Yes I do.”
I love these parts because they move the story forward. Why are the buildings new? Oh, because of the dragon raids. He’s intimidated by the Chief, who happens to be his dad, which gives insight into their relationship. He is totally gone on Astrid. And she is totally out of his league.
What it made me realize is that many little parts can lead up to the inciting incident. I don’t have to start my protag on the top of a cliff and throw her off in the first paragraph. All of these parts of Hiccup’s world—the dragon raid, his tense father/son relationship, his unrequited love for Astrid—were established parts of his world. All this ordinary but engaging Viking scene needed was a wrench thrown in the mix to start off the story.
Now, the explosions in my story don’t start until chapter three, where they belong. I feel good about my beginning because I’ve allowed the wrench to be thrown in naturally, alongside the everyday stuff, where it belongs.
And whenever I get stuck, I just jump on my Night Fury and clear my head out in the open air. Try it, guys. It really works.


  1. I love How to Train Your Dragon! Finding that balance between introduction and propelling your story forward can be difficult.

    One problem I see with new authors is that they get the inciting incident in the first scene/chapter then they break off to do a whole bunch of backstory or set up. Once you get the forward motion you need to keep it. Something I'm still working on.

  2. "Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile."

    HTTYD is an amazing movie. I watched it over the weekend with my parents, because even though I'm all grown up now, we can still enjoy a good animated film. (Plus Toothless reminds us very much of our own black, green eyed cat!)

    I agree, the world building of the first few minutes is really very well done.

  3. Ok, that's funny because I was struggling with my book when this movie came out and I remember watching it thinking, ahhhh....that's how you open up. Great post.

  4. Oh, excellent points! (Although I start my book with my MC on a cliff. She doesn't get thrown off so much as chooses to jump.... but still. :))

  5. Well hello, Jeigh! What a surprise to find you over here. So, worldbuilding is one of my weakest weaknesses. I have the hardest time finding that balance where it unfolds naturally. I need to watch HtTYd again! Great points. :)

  6. I love this post! What great ideas Jeigh. I'm totally going to use them :)

  7. That movie did have some good lines. Now I want to re-watch it!

    Beginnings are so tricky. I think I only produced a decent one when I gritted my teeth and cut the first 30 pages of the manuscript...or something like that. I've been working on my WIP for a while too. One begins to forget how it became what it is...

  8. Jeigh, I love it!

    Honestly, THAT is they way to start a story. It was a great show...I should probably read the book ;)

    Thanks for coming over and sharing your wisdom with us :)

  9. LOL! I LOVE THIS! And I love that movie. And I'd really love to borrow your Night Fury because I need to clear my head in a serious way. It's probably the only way I could do it without my kids.

    Fab post! Thanks for hosting Jeigh today!

  10. Good advice. I don't know how many times I've changed the beginning of my current work. I think I may be in the right place now, but I'm not exactly sure!

  11. It's kind of scary not to start your story with a bang, but sometimes it just needs to set up for the explosion.

  12. Jeigh, how did you get inside my brain? BECAUSE YES. Actually, I shouldn't be surprised. :)

  13. This is great! And HTTYD is one of my favorite movies. I think i'll watch it again this week.


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