Beginning: How Kingston Starts Her Story
Each part of any book is important, but the beginning and end are easily the most important. In order to draw a reader into the story, it needs to begin with a bang. This does not necessarily mean that the best and most exciting parts of a story have to take place at the beginning, of course. It might mean that the author needs to do a good job of introducing characters that will make people want to stay around for a while. Whatever the case, it is well-established that if the beginning of the book fails, then the book itself will struggle to hold a reader’s attention. Perhaps this is why, in their book Technique in Fiction, Lanning and Macauley write extensively about strategies that individuals must use whenever they are beginning their story. While these authors deal with fiction, their lessons can easily be applied to other genres of writing, as well. As long as readers are being asked to digest something, the beginning of that something will be very important to the overall development of any given work.
The authors write of some of the specific things that a writer can ultimately use if he or she wants to do a good job of bringing the reader into the story so that the reader might ultimately want to hang around for the entire duration. The authors write, “Mystery, violence, strangeness of character or situation, some highly tantalizing suggestion of plot – these are the reliable lures to catch the innocent creature”. What the authors communicate here is that there is more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak. Throughout this portion of the book, the authors note that just introducing a juicy hook at the beginning is not necessarily the best way. If one tries to do too much with the beginning of the work, then one can risk overwhelming the reader or otherwise losing the reader’s interest in the entirety of the book. Any author doing fiction should understand that if he wants to be successful over the long term, then he needs to come up with an approach that is varied in nature. It needs to be one that can possibly bring in the reader without having to do so much. Mystery, it seems, or simply introducing something that is unfamiliar, might be enough to bring in a reader. While some will assume that the book needs to have a juicy beginning, this is not necessarily true, and the evolved writer understands that well.
When one looks at the way in which Kingston begins in her book The Woman Warrior, one can clearly see that she understands the basics of writing as the authors have suggested it should be. Though she is not writing fiction, some of the fundamentals are the same. She is attempting to tell a compelling story, and doing so requires a writer to have some way of bringing the reader into the fold. In order to do this, the author starts with what many might call a very mysterious beginning. The author begins, “’You must not tell anyone,’ my mother said, ‘what I am about to tell you. In China your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family well. We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had never been born’”. One of the challenges for the author is making sense of what her mother is telling her. This is primarily why the book begins not with the author’s own words, but with the words of her mother, who will play a majorly important role in the proceedings. This book serves as a prediction for the seriousness of the discussion at hand, and it helps to introduce some mystery. Not only does it introduce the idea of violence, but it also introduces the fact that family secrets may play an important role in this particular family’s construction. Overall, it is an intensely important part of the work that can ultimately set the tone for the rest of the book that is going to follow.
As the authors of Technique in Fiction note, part of the job of the beginning of the book is to lay out something of a roadmap for what is to come. The beginning of the book, in that way, is a multi-purpose tool. Not only does it bring the reader in and create interest in the story, but it serves to organize the story, as well, for people who are going to be digging through it. It must lay out the foundation of the characters who are going to be discussed, letting the reader know not only who she should care about, but also, why she should care so much about those characters. This is the ultimately challenge, and it is one that Kingston takes on with the beginning of her book.
She does not simply tell the reader about herself or tell the reader about the family. Rather, she allows the reader to figure out for his or her own self what the characters are going to be. The reader gets to grow alongside the narrator, and the author comes to see the mother as being somewhat mysterious. This sets the stage for further development, and just as Lanning and Macauley had suggested, it creates the intrigue that must be present in these sorts of story beginnings.