by Neva Bodin
Start with a hook. Great advice. But, where in the story is the hook? Sometimes, I start a story at the beginning, another cliché. Then realize that’s boring, cut it off and start in the middle of the first chapter.
How about starting when the rope trips?
When I was growing up on a farm in my early years, we mowed hay with the tractor, raked it into shocks (mounds) with the horses, hand pitched it into a hayrack and hauled it home with the horses (and later a tractor). There a process that required tripping a rope moved it to the top story of the barn where the haymow was.
Before my brother and Dad pitched the hay from the shocks into the hayrack, they lay a sling of 3 ropes, connected at one end by a ring, and spread out like a fan on the hayrack floor. Halfway through the load, they lay another sling rope on top the hay already loaded.
When we reached the barn, the hayrack was pulled parallel to the front under the overhanging peak where a large hook hung from a track seaming the inside peak of the roof. The hook was let down and hooked to the ends of the sling. Another rope coming from the bottom was hitched to the horses (or tractor) and pulled away from the barn, lifting the load of hay up and into the haymow.
“Trip the rope,” someone would yell when the hay had moved along the track to the appointed place in the mow. And a large pile of loose hay fell on whatever was below. The fallout was fragrant and messy. Beware a chicken, mouse or cat who might be sitting below.
I believe this is where our current culture/readers would like the story to start. Where it may be fragrant and messy or smothering and restrictive to whoever is in the way of the situation you wish to write about.
A situation falls into a life; it causes conflict, panic, and varied kinds of fallout. And we as authors get to “trip the rope” at just the right spot in that life, to cause the most conflict needed to grow that character into someone the reader can identify with and care about.
Incidentally, that big red barn burned down in 1988 when my brother turned a light on in the haymow and it somehow started the fire. My dad built that barn in the late 1920’s. I still can feel the thrill of driving the big black Percheron horses (Tom and Beauty) and growing strong enough to “trip the rope.”