Do stories start at the beginning?

Start at the beginning, work through the middle, and finish up at the end - that's the way to do it, isn't it? Whatever "it" may be. But do stories really have to start at the beginning?

I've heard a lot of writing coaches suggest we start with the middle - find out where the story's going then we'll know where it began; but of course, for the reader the story still starts at that newly and beautifully rediscovered beginning.

There are others who insist the published tale should start in the middle of the action, revealing the past when things calm down, then heading for the future - got to grab those readers, right from the start you see.

Then there are books that start at the end, or nearly the end, jumping to "six months earlier" or three hours or three days. TV shows do it to. They drive my sons crazy.

And then there are series, beautifully developed, convincing and cool. The reader loves the characters or the world, and just wants a little more. Then the author offers a beginning before volume one, and volume zero arrives. I wonder if maybe these work the best, when the beginning is so well worked out, the author knows it all. It's built into all the characters; it's solid and true; but its mystery's waiting, not weighing the story down. When it's finally told, it's complete in new stories of its own, instead of just background to be rushed through before the tale begins.

Field of Graves by J. T. Ellison comes before the rest of her Taylor Jackson series (which I've not read). I'm told it reveals how certain main characters met. For me, a new reader, it reveals a fascinating protagonist, flawed but strong, with her own dark mysteries weighing her down. I can almost imagine a volume minus one someday. But in the meantime, I'll brew some dark five-star coffee and look for volume one.

Seeds of Foreverland by Tony Bertauski introduces the character who creates the mysterious Foreverland of his beloved trilogy. I really love the Foreverland novels, so I was delighted to find a copy of this. It's somewhat darker though - kind of Stephen King-ish in its depiction of the misfit son of possibly mad scientists. You'll need some more dark five-star coffee while you read, and don't let the flies land in your mug.

Halfskin (the vignettes) by Tony Bertauski, offers a set of vignettes creating a history, or pre-history, of the world of Clay. The stories fit together beautifully, with a gradual escalation of fears and ideas in a thoroughly believable, slightly-alternate reality. Here it was bio-chips rather than silicone chips that changed the world, and the social, scientific and even political changes brought about are fascinating. Enjoy with some richly elegant complex four-star coffee.

Another introductory novella by Tony Bertauski is Drayton, introducing a not-quite vampire, not-quite-angel of death character with a wealth of history and mystery untold. It's cool, dark, and told with unflinching language. Brew some more dark five-star coffee and enjoy.

Oliver and Jumpy 34-36 by Werner Stejskal, twelfth in a series of childrens picture books, includes the story of where Oliver got his hat, so I guess that's a prequel too. Meanwhile there's Oliver and Jumpy, 40-42, by Werner Stejskal, which includes elephants, spiders and Halloween scares. The series keeps growing.


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