Where to start?

What’s the best point in the story to begin a book? I’ve gone through some rigorous writing exercises recently trying to figure that one out for myself! After three false starts, I think I’ve got it nailed down for my work in progress. (Fingers crossed.)

With this in mind, I thought it might be fun to do a little writing exercise today on Chicks. Readers, as well as authors, can play along. You don’t have to put anything on paper!

Below is an opening scene (not my WIP, by the way):

Margo walked through the living room carrying a suitcase. Rising from his chair, her husband said, “Where are you going?” She opened the front door, set her suitcase on the front porch and turned to face him. “I’m leaving you, Howard.”

“Margo, how can you leave me after thirty years of marriage?”

She pulled off her wedding band and flung it at him. “Goodbye, Howard.” Margo picked up her suitcase, jumped into her Mercedes convertible and pulled out of the driveway, tires squealing as she hit the road.

Whose scene is this? I think we’d all agree it’s Margo’s scene. She’s the active party. She’s the one who’s going somewhere, literally in this case.

Does this scene lack power because of missing backstory? Feel free to disagree, this is an exercise, after all. But, my take is that we can work in information about how things got to this point later in the story. Starting with backstory could lose the reader. (By the way, I think it’s important to start the story with Margo, the protagonist. I knew a writer who liked to say, “Readers are like ducks. They imprint on the first person they meet in a book.” I think there’s some truth to that, though there are always exceptions.)

The story has opened at a pivotal moment in the main character’s life: the end of her marriage. A moment of major change is often a good place to start a story.

While the opening scene here is pretty barebones, we actually learn more about this couple than it might appear at first glance. We know the marriage is over. The fact that Margo throws away her wedding band tells us she’s not just going home to mother for a few days. We know nothing about the couple’s jobs or house, but Margo driving a Mercedes suggests some wealth.

What questions does this short scene bring to the reader’s mind? Who do we care most about in the scene? (Again, your thoughts may vary.) As for me, I don’t like Howard very much. All he says is “How could you leave me after thirty years of marriage?” There’s no “Margo, please don’t go.” “Margo, let’s talk about this.” “Margo, I love you.” Mostly, I’m thinking, “Howard, WHAT have you done to cause Margo to leave you after sticking with you for thirty years?” And I’m not really wondering what Howard is going to do now. I’m wondering, “Where is Margo going? What’s next for her?”

What is the whole point of a book’s opening? This is a rhetorical question. We all know the most important thing is to draw readers into the story and make them want to keep turning pages. If you’re still reading this, either our little scene made you care enough to keep reading — or you just love me. I’ll take it, either way!

Now, here’s where you can jump into this exercise. What do you think should happen in this story? I’ll give you a prompt here to help you decide: When Margo walks out on Howard carrying a suitcase, the reader likely assumes it is packed with her clothes and toiletries. But, I’m telling you that Margo’s clothes are NOT what’s inside that suitcase. Plot twist!

In the comments, tell us what YOU think is in Margo’s suitcase. This will influence the direction of the story. There are no right or wrong answers. OR, name a book you love for the way it starts — or for its killer plot twist! (No spoilers, please.)

59 thoughts on “Where to start?

  1. Ooo, Vickie, quelle fun! I’ll play. Margo’s suitcase contains scores of tightly wadded hundred dollar bills she found in the basement, along with 2 dusty bottles of Mouton Rothschild 1982, a lacy red negligee with the tags still on she’s been saving since her honeymoon with Howard 30 years ago, and a pink diamond kitty collar from Walmart (she picks up her white cat at the corner). And I love both this opening scene AND you, Vickie!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Okay, I love those specific items. (Remember when we were doing a group sprint write and I had no idea what to write next so I asked for an item prompt and you said a “black negligee”? That turned into a whole thing that stayed in the book. You are so good at this.)

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Oh drat, I recycled the lingerie! We can’t have that. I was going to say “brassiere,” but I was trying to be delicate. I see that Leslie mentioned mermaid costuming below, so perhaps it is a clamshell bra.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I like your style — and I LOVE you, Lisa! Mmm, I wonder if Margo already has someone in mind to model her red negligee for — or is she keeping her options open!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The suitcase contains 2 kilos of heroin. She’s leaving her husband because she doesn’t want him harmed when the owner of the H comes to get it back it. She’s trying to make him angry so he doesn’t try to follow her.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. The suitcase is full of documents that she found hidden in a box below the floorboards that show Howard has another family somewhere and has been conning her the whole time. His real name isn’t even Howard…

    Also inside: her phone charger. Because that is important forever.

    So much fun, Vickie! Thank you for this great post and congratulations on nailing down your WIP intro! 👏👏👏

    Liked by 4 people

  4. We love you, Vickie! I like how Lisa is so detailed in her answer. But I’m going with Liz’s idea of revenge. I kind of want Margo to take away his documents like birth certificate, Social Security card, credit cards, and checkbook. Or since she’s got that fancy Mercedes, maybe she’s taken the keys to another property or boat or something.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Aw, thanks, Jen! Lisa has a beautifully devious mind — it’s why we love her! I like the idea of taking all his documents — that’s some devious thinking, as well!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I love books that start with action, and I agree that backstory can be worked in as needed. I still hate a data dumb of backstory no matter when it happens. But I also hate that backstory being withheld too long. Never happy, am I?

    I really do like this opening. But I am certainly interested in Howard. Did he have no clue this was coming? Or was it something he’s been trying to avoid? Being the mystery reader I am, I’m thinking that Marge is up to something and the fact that it isn’t clothes in her suitcase makes me think I am right.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like the way you’re already adding up the clues, Mark! As a reviewer, I’m sure you read more mysteries than most of us. Most of the time, it’s those questions that keep you turning pages, amiright?!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It is definitely those questions that keep me turning pages. And, since things are never what they appear, I’m often wrong when I think I know the answers to questions like that.

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      2. My question to you, Mark, is does it annoy you when you’re wrong in your assumptions? Does it annoy you when you’re right? I run the gamut…I’m annoyed if I figure it out, and I’m annoyed when I don’t!

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  6. She has their toy poodle, Marie Antoinette, in the suitcase (she’ll let her out as soon as they get in the car). Marie is the only thing she knows Howard will be unwilling to give up in the divorce settlement, so she’s going to take the dog with her to Florida, where she’s going to work as a mermaid at an amusement park. Oh, and she has her swim suit and goggles in the suitcase, as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great, Leslie! I love the idea of Margo and Marie Antoinette running along a beach together. The dog was probably always better company than Howard anyway.

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  7. Vickie, this is awesome! I’ll play…

    There’s only one thing in Margo’s suitcase and it’s Howard’s most precious possession. It’s a large, framed photo of Howard’s mother, who he always put above Margo. But what Margo DOESN’T know is that taped to the back of the photo is the key to a safety deposit box… where Howard’s been hiding money he embezzled from the company he works for.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Vickie, I’ll bite.
    First off, did Howard just come home from work? I am imagining he has, and Margo already has the car loaded with all her stuff. This is just the show piece.
    What’s in the show piece? They were both unfaithful. She is taking every shred of evidence that they both cheated. Receipts, pictures, phone bills, etc.
    She is going to her lawyer’s office to file for divorce as we speak. She has all the paperwork, so Howard has to start from scratch to gather evidence against her, if he figured out she was also cheating.
    Then Margo is going her boyfriend’s house to camp out.
    Of course what she does not realize is her boyfriend is the stepbrother of the woman Howard is sleeping with.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. First … I love this— “Readers are like ducks. They imprint on the first person they meet in a book.”

    Second … Margo has the chopped up remains of Howard’s mistress in that suitcase, along with all the clues she’ll sprinkle around to frame him for the murder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Becky, I agree with Jen that your story probably isn’t a cozy — but I’d love to read it! Maybe Margo tosses what’s left of the girlfriend overboard, but leaves a “bit” of her on Howard’s boat for the cops to find! We decided Howard has a boat, right?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL! It could definitely be a cozy … as long as she opened it offstage! (But it’s true, I’ve been playing in thriller land lately so I’m feeling a bit warped. It’s fun, though!)

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  10. Forget the bathing suit. Margo is comfortable in her own skin and is a baker without par. She has all her gourmet recipes in the suitcase and is going to open her own cupcake or cookie shop named Howard’s End.

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