Section 6: First Face

Orson Scott Card (Characters & Viewpoint) suggests that there are four factors in a story: mileau, idea, character, and event. One of these factors will predominate, and that predominating factor determines the story structure, including the start.

I divide books into three types of stories: Plot, character, and premise. Your start should match your story type.

The point seems to be this. It would be nice, though not essential, if your reader gained a sense of your story from the start. Starting with an interesting premise, for example, suggests a premise story. (And if your story is built around an interesting premise, why would you start with something else?)

So your start is the first face to your story.


So, it's polite to give readers an idea of what your book is about, and it's probably a good strategy. If you are appealing to readers who like something in particular, like horses, you should probably start with horses. And same for if you are appealing to readers who like suspense or character.

That's a natural thing to do in a start – you know why you liked your book.


Card also suggests: "The reader then knows what to expect, and holds the thread of that structure throughout the tale." My complaint was that a misleading start can cause me to misread the chapter; Card is expanding this to the whole book.

And the issue can be as simple as focusing on the main character. After a short start that is difficult to categorize, There Will Be Lies begins:

When I come into the living room, Mom is not even slightly ready.

So, that's an action start. But note the focus on Mom.

Which doesn't surprise me. She's got the TV on full blast; it's so loud, the ground is vibrating. At the same time she's got the closed captions on: Mom is a believer in total communication. She's on the couch...

So that start does not have particularly good focus. There may have been good reasons for that in that book, and this issue probably isn't of major ipmortance. But there must be some advantage to starting with a focus on the main character.