Start at the begnning or go back in flashbacks?

by William

Question: My story is set in a dystopian society where mythological Titans rule the world. The main character is a slave but before the Titans took over he was a regular teenage boy. Should I start out with him when the world was normal or should I start out in the dystopian society and flashback to him when he was normal?

Answer: I think it depends on what story you want to tell.

If you want to tell the story of how the Titans took over, then you should probably start before it happens.

If you want to tell a story of how the Titans lose power, or a story that simply uses the Titans' kingdom as a backdrop, then you might not need to mention the time before their coming at all. If it's not an essential part of the story arc, then cut it.

What would be a reason for showing the time before the Titans came? Maybe to illustrate events that play a key role in shaping the main character's personality and motivations in the present, or those of another major character? Perhaps these events set in motion something that will affect the main character in the present?

In other words, think in terms of a 4-part structure where the first part establishes the character (the setup), the second part challenges or complicates things for the character, the third part forces the character to make a choice, and the fourth part shows the resolution. Is the time of enslavement the complication or the setup? If it's the setup or neither, then consider cutting it. If it's the complication, then you need to show the setup at some point.

Sometimes it makes more sense to present the reader with the complication and then tell the setup later in flashback. Other times it works better to tell the setup first. It all depends what will hook the reader better in those opening pages.

See, I can't give you an easy answer, because it depends on so many factors in your story that only you know. I can only give you something to think about.

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