Navigation menu

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Speak Out!: Start at the End, guest post by Sioux Roslawski

Start from the beginning. No, that’s not what I meant to say.

Start from the middle. No, that’s not quite it, either. Start at the end.

There. That’s more like it.

As children, if we were lucky enough to have a teacher who encouraged us to write down our stories, we usually heard the same advice. “Just tell the story. Start from the beginning.” And if we followed those directions, it certainly didn’t lead us down the wrong path. However, if we had chosen a different route, the journey might have been a bit more intriguing.

Sometimes, beginning at the end of the story and flashing back is a wise choice. Whether you’re working on a novel or a short story or a memoir, don’t fall for the idea that you must tell your story in chronological order.

Consider opening with some action. Some dialogue. Think about a beginning that causes a sense of disequilibrium.

You stumble over that last line. Dissss-e-kwil-what? It’s too early for anything beyond a monosyllable? You haven’t had your morning dose of coffee/tea/chocolate/Mimosas yet? My apologies.

Start off your story in a way that causes some instability or imbalance. Make the reader wonder, and thus wander further into your tale because they’re intrigued.

For example, I had this beginning for a childhood memoir of mine. I didn’t open with getting my swimsuit on and gathering together my towel and snack money. I didn’t begin with walking to the pool. Instead, this is how I started:

Still, decades later, I have no idea exactly how it happened. Did I stumble and slip, like a thread through a needle, through the opening in the guardrail? Did I veer off the edge, despite the sandpapery surface I walked along? I have no clue what caused the accident. All I know is one moment I was fine, high above all the neighborhood houses that surrounded me and the next moment, I was half on the concrete and half in the water.

It all began on a typical June afternoon.

So, consider beginning at the end of the story or the middle and using flashbacks to fill in the holes. Give the reader something a bit different when it comes to the organization of your story. They’ll appreciate it…

* * *
 Sioux Roslawski has been published in three (so far) Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, as well as several Not Your Mother's Book collections. A third grade teacher with the Ferguson-Florissant School District, she is also one of the five founding members of the famed WWWP writing critique group. Her musings can be found at ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


  1. Sounds like a great way to get the reader intrigued! Thanks Sioux. ;)

  2. This post gave me an excellent idea in solving a problem I'd struggling with on one of my own stories; great post.

  3. I always seem to start at a dramatic point close to the end of my novel and then flash back. I don't know if it's because I'm a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk and he often does that--and does it extremely well! Especially in Survivor, Fight Club, and Invisible Monsters...actually, I think he writes all his stories in nonlinear narrative. The literary term is "in media res" and refers to starting at the midpoint or end to establish characters or conflict--usually starting with action or a dramatic scene. It may be a gimmick, but I find it pulls me into the story.

  4. MP--I hope it does work for you. We writers need lots of tools in our tool bag in order to keep the muse appeased...

    Sheila Good--I'm glad the timing was right. Good luck with your writing piece.

    Angela--I love Palahniuk, too. My favorite of his is "Haunted," and it's about a writing retreat, so not only does his writing (as always) draw me in, but the subject matter is quite appealing.

  5. Sioux, I love Haunted, too! It's so incredibly gross. LOL

  6. Angela--It's twisted, with a side of even-more-twisted.

  7. NOW you tell us! And to think, all week I could have been starting my stories with:

    The idea that fudge could be used as a murder weapon had never entered my mind.


    Yesterday, if somebody had told me, "I'm going to give you a Palahniuk," I might have replied, "Them's fightin' words!"

    Yes, I'm intrigued. I would really like to hear more about your failed attempt to break the law of gravity.

  8. Oh, Sioux, another great post. And ladies, I've been at a writing event with Sioux where she wrote about her maternity clothes. :) She is an excellent writer, especially in this genre, and we should all follow this wonderful advice. :)

  9. Margo--Thanks.

    Yes, that story was terrifying. Jam-packed with images of huge white expanses of flesh.

    And thanks again for coming to the Book House. It was great seeing your daughter and meeting your parents. I'm sure they're immensely proud of you and your writing accomplishments... :)

  10. Great advice Sioux.

  11. Great advice, and I want to read more about how you fought the law of gravity and lost.

  12. Anonymous3:49 AM

    Thanks for the smooth read, advice, and confirmation, Sioux! My first novel might be off to a good start-- a suspenseful one I might add!!

  13. Great advice, Sioux. Linear writing can get monotonous. You have a knack for taking your reader by surprise.


We love to hear from readers! Please leave a comment. :)