Stories consist of three parts; the beginning, the middle and the end and our family history stories should be no different. Each part of our story serves a purpose. The beginning is about hooking the readers into your story; it’s about introductions, of the ancestor, the world, and the problem. The middle of the story becomes a journey to attain, to learn or find or overcome the greatest challenge at the climax. The middle is about resistance and struggle. The end or resolution of a story puts us in our ancestor’s new world; the ancestor’s goal is achieved in some fashion. The reader sees a change in our ancestor having completed his journey.
As you begin to write the scenes that comprise the beginning, the first quarter of your story, let’s look at what we should find in those scenes. The start of a story comprises some important scenes, as well, those scenes combined carry with them a lot of responsibility.
In the beginning, the reader will be introduced to your protagonist ancestor, the central character of your story and through whose point of view you will be telling the story. These early scenes should place your ancestor in their normal world establishing the time and location of your story, and they will introduce the reader to your ancestor’s goal and his conflict in reaching his goal.
The opening scenes in your family history story has three major goals.
To get your readers to accompany your ancestor on their journey, you must present a single protagonist ancestor for them to follow, a central character from whose point of view the story is told. In the beginning, we want to learn a little bit about our ancestor’s character and emotional state. This character may be demonstrated through their actions, or we may get a glimpse into her interior world, but her emotional journey must begin in your opening scenes along with her outer journey. We need to include just enough information about your ancestor’s personal history and character that it will help shed some light on your characters motivation for seeking out this story goal.
In our opening scenes, it’s important to set our ancestor’s world. These early scenes should place your ancestor in their ordinary world establishing the time and place of your story. First scenes usually offer plenty of visual and sensory imagery. The setting will be a significant player in the beginning. We need to make an effort to orient our reader in the time and place of the story. Avoid introducing this world to the reader using dry summary but showing your ancestor in action in his everyday world. Use all five senses to bring that world to life. But don’t overdo it. It’s also important to find a balance so that you don’t spend a great deal of time describing the setting and forget to tell the story. We will look at setting in our scenes in a future post.
Opening scenes should throw us immediately into the action – but not just any action, action that centres on your protagonist ancestor. Your opening action must not only introduce a complex character in his normal world, but it also must introduce your ancestor’s goal. Beyond understanding your ancestor’s goal, the beginning also demonstrates that something needs to change for your ancestor to for her achieve this goal, this becomes the situation.
The situation will compel or force your ancestor to take action. This may lead to a whole host of other obstacles and problems that your ancestor must overcome. However, your opening scenes are responsible for launching this action.
If you don’t present this complication early enough in your story than you stand to lose your reader’s attention quite quickly, that’s why introducing the situation is part of the beginning.
In your first scenes focus on presenting your ancestor to the reader, place him in his world for the reader and get the story problem started so that your reader is hooked and ready to turn the page.