Saturday, November 09, 2013

Getting Things Off to a Fast Start

A friend of mine, who wanted to write some short stories, asked how I always seemed to get my stories off to a fast start. I told him "Start in the middle of someone Else's story and have your hero wander into it." This is a trick I learned from a comic book writer named Gaylord Dubois and I've used it in many a short story and one novel. Dubois reportedly wrote over 3000 comic books in his career and I've certainly read hundreds of them because he was the main writer for Tarzan at Dell and Gold Key. He also wrote a ton of Dell Westerns and I'm going to use one of those to show what I'm talking about. This story is from the Dell Gene Autry comic, issue #100.
   The opening page shows Gene on top of a ridge, looking down at a bunch of bad guys attacking a wagon. Gene rides down, guns blazing, and scatters the outlaws. Not only does this get the story off to a fast start, it also establishes the character of the hero. He's brave, capable, and on the side of the underdog.

  Page two actually gets the plot running as Gene rides down to see the folks he rescued. We learn a bit more about Gene. He knows field medicine and is cool in a bad situation. And the rest of the cast is introduced in a natural way.
    And with page three, the other main characters of the story tell Gene who they are and what they're doing out in the wild. It doesn't feel so much like exposition because they're not telling the reader, they're telling Gene. Now we have the necessary info for the plot and Gene's already involved. That's what I mean by starting in the middle of someone Else's story. The story ultimately isn't about gene Autry, but about the people he's trying to help. So if you're having trouble getting a story off to a quick start, remember how Gaylord Dubois did it. Works for me, anyway.



Paul R. McNamee said...

Good observation. I've been reading some Jonah Hex comics (b&w Showcase collection) and probably half the stories are like that.

Hex invariably gets pulled into someone else's situation - often via whatever bounty he is chasing. Or, Hex brings a bounty to a town where something is afoot and he gets tangled up in someone else's problem.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Roy Thomas was also really good at this, Paul. Check out a lot of the early Conan stories. It's a solid technique for short stories.

Rachel said...

Thank you!!! I have recently given up on a short story that I really want to write because it was so fucking boring I wanted to stab my eyes out. I still think the basic premise is great, though. Almost all of my short stories are scifi and they invariably involve some sort of body augmentation/mutation that is based on some real science observed in humans or animals. I don't study "junk dna" but it's a really interesting topic and I've always wanted to use it in a story. I've got this sort of X-Men meets PI story idea but I could never seem to get it out of snoozeville. I thought it's because I tried to write it in first person POV (I suck at first person POV) so I re-wrote it in my usual 3rd person limited... still boring! But this idea can totally work for it!! There are several events happening off page that could easily become an event happening right at the beginning that my hero could find herself enmeshed in. I'm so happy! I really did not want to give up on this story! Thank you!!!!! (and sorry this got so long:)

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Glad you found the post of use, Rachel. It's fitting that a technique I learned from a comic book writer could help you get a story with an X-Men connection up and running.

Kathy Bennett said...

Thanks much for this article. I'm going to be doing a short story soon and this will be a big help!