I’ve been a member of several writing groups over the years. Some of these groups have just been more of a general writing support group, but others have been critique groups. I’ve had dozens of my stories critiqued by these groups. (Which is really easy since most of my stories are rather short.) But an issue that has come up a few times in my stories, as well as in discussions in the general writing groups, is how to start a story. We’re told that a story needs to start with a hook, something to grab the reader’s attention and make them want to continue. But the opening also needs to set things up for the rest of the story. But you don’t want to just start a story with, “Joe Irving lives in Wala Wala, Washington. He is 24, six feet, 255 pounds. His girlfriend is Sarah Roberts, 23. They’ve been dating for seven months.” Listing all the facts like that is boring, but if you start a story with Joe working as a temp in some office and it’s twenty pages before we learn he has a girlfriend, some people would be like “His girlfriend comes out of nowhere. Can you bring her in earlier, or something?” Of course, if you rewrite it to bring Sarah in early, you may have to leave his temp job for later, and then some people will say that comes out of nowhere.
I often run into the problem of my setting being a base on the moon or something. I want to start a story with characters talking about something, but none of them say, “As you know Bob, we’re in a base on the moon.” When that does come up, is it a twist, or a needed bit of information I held from the reader. Which brings me to the title of this post. I sometimes wish I could just start the story with a diagram. Like, this is the house the story takes place in with all the rooms and such marked. That way, I could just start the story without having to spend the first several pages trying to slyly weave in the fact that this is taking place in a house and here’s the layout. It would be so much easier.