Are you ever guilty of starting your story in the wrong place?
July 10, 2016
I HAD KNOWN HIM for only three pages, and already he was perturbed when he came into see me.
He was good looking in an ugly sort of way.
Had a knife slash in his neck.
Thick black hair needed a haircut.
He wore jeans and a tee-shirt, both blue, the shirt ripped.
Both needed another spin in the washing machine.
Dirt had ground its way into the fabric.
His name was Arthur.
He didn’t like his name either.
A bruise had grown purple beneath his left eye.
A tooth was missing.
Blood had dried around the wound on his neck.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
I figured he didn’t like the fight.
I figured he didn’t like it because he lost the fight.
“You got it all wrong,” he said.
“What about the book?”
“You started in the wrong place.”
“You started with the fight.”
“Readers like a book that starts with a bang,” I said.
“Readers don’t care about the fight.”
“The fight has nothing to do with the story.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“It’s my story.”
I stared out the window for moment and thought over his words.
Finally, I said, “I wanted readers to know how you go the scar on your neck.”
“Readers don’t care about the scar,” he said.
“A scar gives you a certain image.” It was a weak defense. “You have a scar, and readers know you’re a tough guy.”
“I’m not a tough guy.”
“I thought you were.”
“I’m just a loner.”
“But what makes you a loner?” I wanted to know.
“I don’t like to fight,” he said.
I shook my head.
I knew Arthur as well as anyone.
I obviously didn’t know him as well as Arthur did.
“What’s the story about?” I asked.
“A stranger comes to town.”
“And you’re the stranger.”
“A man is dead,” he said. “A good man is dead. Somebody must pay, and the police need a suspect.”
“And they suspect you.”
“Why not? I’m the stranger.”
“Why was the man killed?”
“Somebody was in love with his wife.”
“Are you in love with his wife?”
“I might be.”
I asked the obvious question.
“So where should the story begin?”
“Not for me.
“Start it at the beginning.” He laughed. “Start it when the stranger comes to town.”
“How’d you get there?”
“I came by train.”
“Not many people ride the train anymore.”
“Look at me,” he said.
“Do I look like I can afford a car?’ he asked.
Arthur stood and walked toward the door.
“Do you still have the scar?” I asked.
“That’s up to you.”
“I think I’ll leave it off.”
By the time Arthur walked through the door, the blood had dried on his neck.
A knife had never touched it.
And somewhere on the backside of my mind, I heard a train whistle in the night. Within a minute or two, a paragraph or two, Arthur had come to town.