The benefit of hindsight

When we look back on an event, the prism of memory can offer a fresh and surprising perspective on something we thought we understood well. Time’s distance gives insight; we know things now that we did not know then. We understand people and the meaning of events differently.

When you set out to write a story, how you do decide where to start? ‘To begin at the beginning’ (thanks, Dylan Thomas) isn’t necessarily a straightforward proposition. Which beginning? Whose beginning? Who will tell the story to best effect and what do they know that others do not?

Try this. Take a first line such as ‘She stepped out into the rain,’ or ‘He had been waiting for over an hour’. Set the stop watch and write freely from this trigger for ten minutes. Allow yourself to go wherever the first line leads you; no censoring or crossings out, just write.

Now pause. When you begin writing again, choose a different perspective; someone else in the situation or story. They may be directly involved or they may be a passer-by or observer. Write for another ten minutes from their point of view.

Pause again. Flash forward to a point in the future. Write for another ten minutes from the perspective of someone who is looking back on the events you have described; someone new perhaps, a narrator with a memory of what happened and their own understanding of what it all meant. What do they know? What did they see? What have they understood? How has the passage of time affected their memory and their opinions? Allow yourself free rein and the benefit of hindsight.

Have you found the beginning of your story? 

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