guest post: Robert Scarlato on beginning a story

Hey, everyone. It's been forever since I've posted here--I'm sorry that I haven't been more proactive. In fact, I haven't gotten much of anything done for a couple of months, yet I feel like this is one of the most stressful times I've ever had in my life.

Well, that's high school for you.

Anyway--today we have a special guest poster named Robert Scarlato, who is the author of For What It's Worth (link at the bottom) about how to begin a story. Without further ado, Robert Scarlato!


It is always hard to find the right words to introduce a story. It's like a code that needs to be cracked. It is either obssesed over to the point where no work gets done or we simply give up. But I say don't use words. Use Images. Close your eyes and get a feel for the setting, time, smell, and characters that inhabit the scene. You are basically painting a picture so why not start with images than worry about words later. Does the scene open with a surprise, or is it more subtle than that? That is left up to you. But know that you must be drawn into the story first, then hook the audeince as well. Just to give you an idea, I will say that whenever I write a story, I like the begining paragrah to be like a kick to the face. The images I thought of was a doorknob, a suitcase, an old man, a record player and falling debris. In the excerpt below, Failing Upwards, I tried to focus on the setting first becuase it's the main character of the story. I wanted you, the audeince, to know just how wrecked this place is. The characters evolved from the people I thought would be living there and how they would act. Make your characters memorable, and your audience will not only get hooked but possibly read it again.
Here's the opening scene of Failing Upwards -
As I walk in, I can already see “Tex” sitting at the concierge desk. He’s in his underpants and a greasy shirt and, for some reason, is wearing a bellhop hat crooked on his head. Perfect. The guy is over seventy years old, owns the place, and yet he will never admit to his outlandish eccentricities.
The door handle rips off as I enter, the wood breaking away from the brass knob as easily as a rusty nail through a foot. I hold it in my hand for a few seconds. My mouth cringes to the right in annoyance. It’s like I was shaking a hand and the owner of it disappeared. I debate for a bit whether to put it back or not. But to put it back is like putting a bullet back in the wound. What’s was the point? I fumble to shove it back into the gapping hole and, when I finally have it in, the handle to my briefcase breaks and the bag drops to the ground. I bring my other hand with the briefcase handle still clutched tightly in it to my face.
This place is starting to rub off on me.
This place is a broken, rundown, abandoned, no good, filthy, unorthodox pile of rubble.
So why do I still come here?
Easy Answer.
Rent control.
The owner is senile. How he lives on it I’ll never know. But, geez, finding a place to stay is hard when you’re a loner in Chicago.
The year is 1953.
And it only gets harder from here on out.
My name is Charles Avery. You can call me Charlie.
“Tex” calls me “Mr. Bills”.
The dope.
It’s so hard to find a decent hotel around these parts. And I have to work my bony butt off to find the most decrepit eyesore just to feel relaxed.
Every day is an adventure trying to get upstairs.
You’ll join me in the madness, won’t you?
Already, as I’m tossing the broken handle away with a grimace on my face, I can hear “Tex” put on the same dang song that he always plays on that heap of a record player of his. In the Hall of the Mountain King. He always does that when I show up. Aside from the lowlifes, the down-and-outers, the hobos sleeping around the place, I’m the only one who decides to take the adventure of sleeping in a room and trying to reach the top floor of the hotel in order to do it.

So, like I said. Use images first, the words will take care of themselves.
Thank you for reading--I'm Robert Scarlato, author of For What It's Worth. Keep writing everyone!