You may have heard the saying “the hardest part of writing a story is the beginning”.
When you come up with a story, sometimes it’s easy to envision the end goal and where it leads, and usually becomes the most thought out part of the story. You may come up with a good central plot, with some minor subplots along the way. You may even have a vague notion on how the ball gets rolling, but without a well thought out beginning the story never gets moving. The rest of the story may be already written and set, but without that crucial part, it never brings captivates them.
That is the main problem I face at the moment.
(Everything from here out that is italicized is background info).
When this story started, it served as a sort of prequel series to my story of the Renegade (which is unrelated to that series of similar name). Back then it was named the Black Guard and was centered around a ship of criminals, murderers, and thieves who were commissioned by elements in the Federation to find an enemy that threatened the Federation’s existence. They were expendable and they knew it, but they were getting paid, so they flew off into the unknown. By stories end I had planned to kill off a few of them and have the rest change enough that they realized what the Federation stands for is not so bad. They would become the outcasts who saved the Federation.
Well it should. A similar plot was featured in the first episode of Star Trek: Renegades a few years after I released the first chapter on the web, before the guidelines came out and they dropped the Star Trek elements. I wished I realized then when I knew now: it was a stupid plot. Not to mention a cliche. So last year or so I began thinking on how to rework the plot. Things changed drastically.
The Black Guard became the Guard. It’s background changed from secret black ops organization to a sort of citizen militia, not too unlike the National Guard. They would have their own fleet of ships that were smaller and not as powerful as the ones possessed by Starfleet. Their crews weren’t military men and women with years of training who traveled vast distances to make contact with new civilizations and seek out new life. They were normal citizens, who wished to protect and serve their world, but lacked they capabilities and/or ships to do so. They were families, whether by blood or friendships, who wanted to see everything they worked so hard on to be protected.
How I Discovered the Path
So the plot changed and my problems began.
The prologue opens up with the USS Sampson and events unfold that begin this story. But how to unfold these events so we know something bad is going on or going to happen? Obviously, I can’t just giveaway the main problem from the get go.
We learn in the first few pages that the current captain, Andres Trector, is not to keen on his current assignment. Being a colony construction manager, he’s more at home on a planet or even a moon than a starship. He is not a military man nor prone to swift action, but he preforms his duties nonetheless. He may show hesitation in his decisions, but he carefully weighs his actions.
It’s in the confrontation with an unknown vessel do we get a glimpse of something out of place. A mysterious transmission from the vessel is sent out. Without giving away too many details, events begin to spiral downward before the prologue comes to an abrupt end. And that leads us the beginning of a mystery.
Seems I have it all figured out? Nope. I was surprised I even got it that far. When I started I came up with the Andres’s thoughts and maybe a few sentences afterwords. That’s it. I had no idea how the mysterious transmission would be received by the Sampson or how it would begin to propel events forward. I was stuck for weeks. Even a few searches online on how to write stories failed to solve my problem. Eventually I stumbled upon an old document I had saved.
It started off with”write out the beginning, middle, and end of your story”. So that’s what I did by writing down a short but important part of the plot on sticky notes.
The Beginning: The Starship Sampson receives a mysterious transmission that prompts the Guard to investigate its source.
The Middle: The investigation leads to a gathering of all the main characters. While their motives and stories (starting off from different places) are all different, they are all connected by a similar plot point.
The End: The main cast finds information that forces them to work together to achieve their goals, but they are unaware of what is truly going on.
I did this for the first book, but decided it was best for the followup stories as well, even if I wasn’t ready to start any basic work on them. This helps me ensure my story stays on track and decide whether to introduce certain plot points sooner or later.
The next step: get a map. Of course getting from Start to Finish isn’t as simple. There has to be a journey to that point, whether figuratively or literally. While the document was vague in this area, it gave me enough to go on to decide how to proceed. Having your entire plot laid out in front of you all at once is useful. Thankfully I had a few corkboards laying around that I could use. So I began with the outline by writing out the basic plot of each chapter on index cards. I placed them from top to bottom on a corkboard next to my sticky notes. As I was writing the outlines, I realized there were events, characters, ideas, etc that needed to be brought up later. I took some smaller sticky notes and placed them next to the appropriate chapter to assist in establishing story points that would eventually make a return later.
Keeping a binder with all your writing and notes in is a must. I grabbed a handful of tab dividers and set up sections: themes I wanted to explore, characters who would appear in the story, events that would be either referenced or occur in the story, notes that I had jolted down over the years, and of course artwork I had lying around that I might incorporate into the story. If you are like me you probably have tons of stuff lying around, whether it be art, writing, etc. Go through them, no matter how old or stupid they may be. There might be something in there you can use.
While this post was more to show how I solved some of my problems, I hope it helps others in some way.