Backstory is a Black and White Issue

I’ve always struggled with the question of: Where does the story begin? And since there are so many of us beginning new stories with #80khotfoot, I thought this would be a great time to chat about it.  It’s simply too easy to start at the beginning of a story which is usually not the beginning at all. Have I confused you yet? *grins* Jenna Patrick, speaker of truth, queen of story structure and cutter of crap once told me I needed to start where the story arc begins. But, that’s not always an easy thing to determine. After all, my first 2 manuscripts began 3 chapters too early and had to be overhauled to make them readable.

And that’s where the problem lies: readability.

We live in an age of instant gratification and zero patience—and so do our readers. According to recent studies adults are unable to hold focused attention longer than 8 seconds and unable to hold sustained attention for longer than 40 minutes. This is why the opening line of a story is so important. If you don’t hook someone within 8 seconds they’ll move on to something else before allowing you their 40 minutes of sustained attention. That’s not much, girlz. But, once you hook them into a story you have 40 minutes of reading time to make them want to continue. Again, not much. So, where is the right place to start a story for today’s impatient reader? Let’s discuss it.

This week I re-watched The Wizard of Oz with my little monkey. It’s a classic. I think everyone has seen this movie, am I right? The story was originally a book published in 1900 and was adapted into the movie we all know in 1939. That was 74 years ago. In the last 74 years society has changed. We all know this, but it was very evident to me this week as I watched this 1939 plot. My eyes were wide as I saw it in a new light, as a writer. I even mumbled to the TV at one point, “I would never be able to get away with this!” What did I notice for the first time?

Backstory info dump!

You know the black and white part at the beginning where Dorothy is on the farm? That’s backstory. A modern day production of this movie would open with the house falling through the sky and Dorothy opening the door to colorful Munchkin Land. The color part is where your story starts by today’s standards. Like I said, I’ve struggled with this concept. But, I think I finally get it. We have to cut to the exciting part where things really get going to hold our modern day, impatient reader’s attention. Then, we must find a way to lace in the black and white bits later in the story like: Toto being taken by Mrs. Gultch, Dorothy running away from home and her character’s friendship with the farm hands. Break it up and slip it in once the reader is invested in the story. So, where do you start your story? You begin where it turns to color in your plot.

What is your doorway to Technicolor?

xx – E. Michels

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