How do you start a story? First, make sure your hero changes. Then start your story right at the moment before your hero’s life changes drastically.
That doesn’t mean start immediately with action because action without knowing who your hero is is meaningless. James Bond films can start with action right away because we already know who James Bond is, but if you have no idea who the hero is, all the special effects and explosions will mean nothing if nobody knows who the hero is.
In one of the awful “Star Wars” prequels, the story starts out with a bomb killing the queen’s surrogate. This explosion is meaningless because we don’t know who the queen is, what type of dangers might be in, or why we should care. Instead, the scene simply starts by showing a stranger show up, a bomb goes off, and people are dead. Since we don’t know what’s going on, the entire action scene is meaningless and emotionless.
So don’t start with action right away. Start with the hero’s emotional state right away, right on the verge of changing completely.
In “Titanic,” Rose will eventually become a strong, independent woman. So the story starts off right before the Titanic sinks where she’s still timid and subservient, ready to kill herself rather than face a marriage with a man she doesn’t love.
In “Don’t Breathe,” the hero is a girl who robs homes with her friends. She wants to escape her abusive mother and save her little sister from their lousy life. By the end of the story, the hero does escape her mother and saves her little sister, but the story starts right before the event that will change her life forever, namely getting trapped in a house with a killer.
The formula for starting a story is simple. First, identify how your hero will change by the end of the story. Then start the story just moments before the momentous event occurs that will change the hero’s life forever.
Don’t start too soon because we don’t need to see Luke Skywalker as a kid going to elementary school. Don’t start too late because we don’t need to see the Death Star blowing up unless we know who Luke Skywalker is and why we should care.
The starting point of every story should begin right on the verge of the momentous event that will change the hero’s life forever. That momentous event is basically your entire story premise.