Information Management & Storytelling, Part II: Beginnings

So after I wrote the previous post on information management, I let my subconscious play with the idea.  Sometimes, sometimes, if I’ve done my homework and researched my researches and thought my thinks, my subconscious can be set loose on a problem and can come up with an answer.  Voila!  Insight.

It was another one of those blatantly obvious ones, in retrospect.  So blatantly obvious that I had actually told myself the answer weeks ago.

So:  if information management is the art of storytelling, as opposed to a craft, then of course your mileage is going to vary here.  Because there are a thousand ways to open a book or a chapter or a scene–and every one of them is right, as long as it makes the reader happy.

But this is one technique that makes me happy.

One of the things that I’ve been shy on (and I think a lot of not-yet-long-term-professional writers would have to agree with me here) is…beginnings.

I like to cut right to the action in a scene.

This is generally exactly the wrong thing to do.

Because guess what goes in the beginning of a scene?

All the things that people tell me that they get confused about.

Scene descriptions, character descriptions, backstory, opinion, how much time has passed, setup on future plot points, setup on character development, setup on mood and theme…


I was in the shower (you know that showers are the quickest way to get ideas, right?) and suddenly I realized it:  I had figured out the theory of the thing in my current state of advice to other writers:

Beginnings introduce the story in its various aspects:  character, setting, plot, theme, etc.


[Slaps self on forehead.]

Anyway, I started a new book for a client, and he’s giving me feedback as I’m writing it, which normally annoys the holy shit out of me, but is working well now–because I’m taking his notes about things that are confusing and writing new beginnings on the scenes where he’s confused.

And it’s wonderful.

Instead of trying to bury the information that I need to bury somewhere in the scene, I write a new opening to the scene.  If he is not confused, I don’t.  I have a couple of scenes that don’t have a lot of opening to them at all–but now I can look at them and go, “There’s a reason I don’t need to introduce the scene for more than a line or two.”  In one case it’s because the scene after that scene is all backstory that explains a timejump (and shows how much the character grew over his obnoxious teenage years while we weren’t following him around, thank God); in another case, it’s because the setting is the scene–a guy is getting chased around a city, and you get description of the city layered in as he runs.

Whenever he says he’s confused, I find a new way to open the scene.  Usually I don’t have to rewrite anything–I’m just add a completely new opening of the scene, right before what I thought was the actual opening of the scene.

I’ve been typing in a lot of Dan Simmons’s The Terror lately (and am thinking about working deeply with Drood, too).  His chapter openings (and endings) have multiple layers to them–he’ll do an opening that establishes character, and then another opening that establishes setting, and then another opening that transitions the reader from the inside of the character’s head and into the action of the story.  He’ll have thousands of words of a character pondering their backstory, then the dark and the ice and the stinking ship upon which they are stranded, then come back to the here and now as they get ready to talk to someone.

Granted, The Terror is a really thick novel, in more ways than one.  But a technique of using multiple openings is a thing, and I can do it if I want to.  Or at least to the extent that it works for me in each chapter.


Something I’d like you to do, if you have a moment:  go back to the beginning of this post and read it again…but only after the first set of section-break formatting dots.  Those three dots are where I would have started a week ago, thinking that I had said everything that needed to be explained in order to set up the blog post.

One of the things that I’ve been shy on (and I think a lot of not-yet-long-term-professional writers would have to agree with me here) is…beginnings.

I approached this blog more like I’ve been approaching those ghostwriting chapters:  take some time and set things up.  I didn’t think too hard about what was going in there; I just wrote.  But I think the blog post flows better with it than without.

Those chapters very certainly do–the client is very happy.

Blog posts take time that I’m not using to write fiction.  So if you’d like to express your gratitude for this post or my blog in general, sign up for my newsletter.  I’m really behind on it so I think you’re pretty safe from newsletter harassment, but if I do get one sent out anytime soon, I promise to include a couple of bad puns.  I’m trying to ease myself out of doing so much ghostwriting, and into writing more for myself–and one of the best ways to do that is to build a mailing list of people who are a) loyal fans, b) moderately interested fans, or c) can be bribed into forwarding things on social media.

If you’re not a fan of bad puns, all I can say is that at least the newsletters don’t come out very often…


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