The other day, my mom, sisters, and I were the outriders for a wagon train in our part of the state. (It’s funny the wide range of places you can learn about writing!) After our waltz/drive around the neighborhood, we were talking to some of the teamsters. Ya know, swapping cowboy/horse stories and generally being friendly. One of the teamsters told a story that got me thinking about story beginnings.
One thing I’ve noticed about cowboy stories is that they usually start with the teller’s relation to the person in the story. That’s actually what got me thinking about the subject. My grandpa wasn’t there and I thought he’d get a kick out of the story. However, then I realized that it wouldn’t start off very interesting if I said, “so, the teamster that I just met yesterday–Mark, I think–well, his cousin had a farm with some Black Angus cows on it that he wanted to breed.” There had to be a more exciting way to start it than that! After all, it’s a mystery story, where the calves turn up the wrong color, and where a rogue steals the cows from their rightful, princely bull!
There are multiple ways I could start the story, and each would put a focus on a different aspect of the story. For example, I could follow the story of the farm owner as he’s desperately trying to find out where these speckled calves are coming from. I could follow the story of the vet trying to figure out if she’d been cheated when she bought the expensive, registered Black Angus bull. I could follow the path of the rogue Longhorn, who loved the cows on the other side of the fence so much he ripped up the fence with his horns. Or I could tell of the Black Angus bull, the rightful prince, who was ousted from his cows by a raging, speckled maniac with humongous horns.
The rancher (Mark didn’t include his name) walked out into his pasture on his morning check. Maybe it was a foggy morning, the low-hanging clouds hugging the ground and making wispy figures in the rising sunlight. That’s why when he first saw his brand new calf, he thought it was just the fog speckling it white. Only when he got closer did he realize it wasn’t fog. How on earth did a speckled calf come from two high-quality Black Angus parents??
“Have you ever heard of two Black Angus having a speckled calf?” Miss Vet (we weren’t given her name either) listened to Mark’s cousin with concern. No. No, she hadn’t. Not from two registered Black Angus like these were. They were black, just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents… and so their calves should have followed. And from her bull! Registered–forged papers?? Expensive– did she get ripped off??
He’d paced his fence, time and time again, trying to figure out any way to freedom. He wanted to explore the world, to see what was out there, to meet new people. But the never dying fences always held him in. He grew bigger, stronger. Horns grew, a massive span that inspired awe to everyone who laid eyes on it. One day he realized that the fence… the fence was smaller than his horns. Why, a fence was only a strand of wire! With an eager excitedness, he rushed over to the fence, carefully latched on to it, and with a mighty toss of his horns… he was free!
The new pasture was lush and green–yet even more beautiful were the cows it contained. He took a deep breath and smiled in his cow way. This was his kingdom! And what an amazing kingdom it was too. The humans had hardley left before he scented a stranger coming up the road… and got a very bad feeling in the depths of his core.
As you can see, each beginning puts emphasis on a different character and starts things a different way. With Beginning #1 and #2, you think that something is wrong with the Angus bull, and it’s a mystery to try and figure out why things aren’t going well. With Beginning #3, you know who did it… and with Beginning #4, you know the toll it takes on the true bull.
Before you start your next story, think about what you want your readers to know and what you want them to find out along the way. Think about the characters you want to follow, think about the way you want the spotlight to shine. After all, the beginning of your story sets the tone for the rest of your story, and you want it to be amazing.
What do you think? How do you like to start off your stories? What is your favorite beginning to read?