This post is about beginnings. Today I sat in front of a congregation, surrounded by over a hundred children singing and speaking in church, and I thought, "how did I get to this moment?"
So I took one step back. "Well, it all started when I got up this morning..."
No, it really goes further than that. So I took a leap back. "It started when we moved into this house and..."
Nope, even further. So I jumped back in time through all the decisions that led me to this point. Marriage, the mission where I met my husband, the internship in D.C. that made me want to go on a mission, growing up with a dad who got me interested in politics...
Still, was that truly the beginning? Certainly there are a million different factors and decisions (including my birth) that led up to that one moment where I'm standing in front of the pulpit cheering on all those happy, wiggling, giggling children.
As a reader, we often assume that the beginning of the book is the beginning of the story, but it never is. A book is actually supposed to begin in the middle of the action-- so the reader feels they are instantly thrown into it right at the exciting part. Harry Potter aside, most books would be very boring (and predictable) if they all began at the birth of the main character.
But the author always has to know that back story. They always have to know what got their characters where they are and how it effected them. Otherwise, the characters seem flat and undeveloped. If we only give them attributes (this character is grumpy, or this one is sarcastic, or beautiful, or stupid, etc), but we don't know in our minds why they're that way, our characters will almost always seem unrealistic, shallow, and a stereotype.
So as writers we must begin at the beginning-- even if most of what we write is left in the pages of our notebooks and not in the pages of our books.