Begin at the Last Possible Moment
Before I had published my novels, I was lucky to hire a writing coach named Gary Provost. One of Gary’s powerful pieces of advice was to begin at the last possible moment. By this, he meant that novels shouldn’t begin with meandering paragraphs talking about rolling hills, the weather or even the main character’s profession. They should start with action. The main character gets a phone call. The voice on the other end of the line says, “Dude, everything has changed. We have to meet.”
That’s beginning at the last possible moment. Everything has changed. It’s urgent. It gets your attention. Why? For one thing, human beings understand that massive shifts in the plot of a story—sometimes dramatically positive shifts, even life-changing shifts, can and do occur. And they often occur suddenly, when the characters in stories least expect them.
Here’s the most important point: You are that character. And the sudden shift in the plot can mean that anything or everything suddenly turns in your direction. You won’t see it coming. An opportunity visits you that you could never have predicted, or you fall in love, or you’re called upon to help out a friend when no one else can deliver, or your mood and energy rises when you’ve been battling depression, or you get a job you only dreamed of, or you finally sell that movie script after 100 rejection letters, or you find God, or you find yourSELF.
You can begin, all over, again at the last possible moment.
Why would Gary Provost have given me the advice he gave me? It certainly isn’t because no one reading a novel would ever will believe it if a riveting event changes everything for the main character in a story. It’s because people know, deep in their hearts, that that is the way things happen in life. They see the story as authentic, not inauthentic, when something unexpected spins the action in a whole new direction. They see it as true to life.
It can be hard to believe that when you’re down, when you’ve lost a friend, when you’ve lost someone you love, when you’ve lost a fortune or when you’ve lost your way. But I’m here to tell you that you should never lose hope. Not ever. Because your true-life story—and the best chapter of all—can begin at the last possible moment, too.
Wait for it. Watch for it. That’s sometimes all you can convince yourself to do. And that’s going to be enough. Just keep your eyes open in the dark long enough, and I promise you that you will see the light.
Dr. Keith Ablow