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My story is about a team and the only reason they formed the team is because of an event that they participated in and idk if I should start the story before or after the event

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    How big is the team? How does this event relate to the rest of the plot? How big is the event? Are you considering not telling the event, or just considering doing it early in the story versus with a flashback (or chunked over several flashbacks)?
    – user54131
    Jun 16, 2022 at 6:10
  • For your plot, is this even an Inciting Incident?
    – Alexander
    Jun 16, 2022 at 18:05
  • This is a very generic question, so it's going to be hard to get useful help.
    – levininja
    Jun 17, 2022 at 3:03

3 Answers 3

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Either well before, or after.

Here's the thing: When you start a story with an MC (Main Character) or MG (Main Group) new to the audience, the audience doesn't care about them. They don't know them. They have no sympathy for them.

It usually doesn't take long to acquaint the audience with some characters, but in a typical book or screenplay, this introduction is about 1/8th of the story, before anything serious happens. (In the standard 3-act story structure, this is called the "Inciting Incident", in a screenplay, the "Catalyst").

The reason for that is you need to generate audience sympathy, curiosity, or interest in the character.

Some writers early in their attempt try to just jump into a major event, thinking it will excite the audience, but it falls flat. Because we don't know these characters, if we like them or don't, why they are fighting, what they are protecting or trying to accomplish, nothing. We are neutral on them.

An exception is an obvious good MG fighting obvious bad guys, like Allied soldiers fighting Nazis, or peaceful farmers fighting marauders, or priests fighting demons.

I think it might be better to introduce each member of your MG around the initial important event, and bring them together as a fighting crew. That can eat a lot of time, it can be a story in itself.

But we see that in Stephen King's The Stand, for example. We get one character, Stu Redman, and the author builds the main group starting with him. Stu starts a literal journey, and meets the main group one or two at a time, they get introduced, and likewise we meet the anti-MG, the villain group, one at a time, but they don't join the Main Group (except a few that later become traitors).

To make your group members distinguishable it is important the reader know them individually; so this is a way to reveal that.

The alternative is to start well after the important event, when all your main group knows each other. They have a get-together of some sort, a birthday, anniversary, a child born, a funeral of a common friend.

But in a way, this is trickier. The problem is a quirk of psychology in readers. Namely, that the events in the "past" of the characters are inherently more boring than the events of the "present" of the characters.

Partly because if characters are recalling or retelling the story; we know the outcome: They survived, intact, there is no element of danger, no worry, no mystery in this flashback or story being told. That foreknowledge tends to drain the tale of dramatic power.

For tales told in present tense, as they occur, readers get immersed and have to read to find out what happens. You always want your readers turning pages to find out what happens next.

So it is difficult to get the Important Event out without being boring.

One way is to all but ignore the Important Event. Don't explain it, put it years in the past, and start with your Main Group already together. You refer to the Important Event obliquely, once in a while, never more than a line of dialogue. Do not reveal exactly what it was.

Introduce the Main Group, make them sympathetic, then the reason they need to start a new mission is the Catalyst: They learn there is a new threat. If you can, relate or connect the past Important Event to the new threat. This is the right time to do that because the atmosphere matches; they were under threat then, and are under threat again.

But now, there is dramatic tension. Your group is in danger, the outcome is unknown. Their happy lives (we have seen them living) are at stake.

Do not just relate the Important Event as a flashback or story within a story, that is difficult to do without boring the audience. Do not try to relate it in reminiscings, that is also unrealistic, and too obvious a way to "load up" the reader.

The result of the Important Event is that this group is now seen as heroic, and is now expected to do the heroic thing or lose standing in their community, or even lose their community.

All that matters from the Important Event are the few elements that will have an effect on the actions of the MG in the current story.

It may be hard to let go of your Important Event, but I think you have two stories here. The Important Event, and a New Threat.

This story is about the New Threat. Introduce your group as already friends, already battle buddies, and honestly we don't have to know how they got together. As people do, they can refer to their past obliquely.

So one approach is to just begin with the assumption they are friends, show that. They were brought together by the Important Event. Somehow the remnants of that have become a Catalyst for the New Threat.

Make necessary references to the Important Event that have led to the New Threat. The crew has their own personal reactions to those incidents because they were involved in them. But focus on telling the story of the New Threat, not rehashing the past.

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  • @Anadeys You write: "An exception is an obvious good MG fighting obvious bad guys, like Allied soldiers fighting Nazis, or peaceful farmers fighting marauders, or priests fighting demons." ? If you wrote priests fighting devils most people would agree tht the priests were probably less evil than the devils, but you wrote "demons", as if all all demons were as bad as devils. Jun 16, 2022 at 15:11
  • @M.A.Golding It is "Amadeus", Mozart's favorite cousin (and likely first lover as teens) used it as her pet name for Mozart; his actual name was "Amadé". His first name was "Wolfgangus". She called him, jokingly, "Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozartus", and in later letters to her, often explicitly sexual, he signed his name that way, with flourishes. That explained, I know little about religious taxonomy, and don't care. I was thinking about exorcisms getting demons out of people.
    – Amadeus
    Jun 16, 2022 at 15:24
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My story is about a team and the only reason they formed the team is because of an event that they participated in...

If the Event is the only reason they came together, it will need to be addressed within the story, thematically if not directly.

Whether you show it or not, The Event is everywhere

The Event has been the primary motivation for every character for some length of time before the start of the story. That's how they are part of this team.

Look for ways to weave it into the worldbuilding. If it was a global disaster find ways for the world to show the consequences without exposition dumps. If the Event was personal, weave it into character environments, their habits, their decision-making.

Some assumptions:
It was probably a no-brainer, do-or-die, leave-your-ego-at-the-door situation.

The Event is the story's opening status quo. But as the dust settles, things are not quite right. The team must learn how to team or the consequences will be greater next time.

If the Event has no inherent crisis-of-character, it's good to speed past it. However, you don't want to imply there was a more exciting plot that happened off-screen.

The Event wasn't complicated; the characters are.

Each member is potentially a master in their field, a maverick ahead of their peers. Those skills that put them on top are not 'team-building skills'. Characters are abrasive, egotistical, incompatible.

If you show the Event, these abrasive character traits will be present but ignorable. When the same traits appear outside the crisis, they are viewed differently. The same traits that seemed brave are later foolhardy. Characters that think quickly can over-think. Leadership becomes demagoguery. Mavericks flaunt rules. Etc.

On the flipside, showing the Event is a way to see how the characters have compromised, or how maintaining the team is costing their personal lives. They may be more sympathetic if we see a slightly earlier status quo, a call to action, a happy life they've been forced to leave for a greater good.

A common post-war trope is the disillusioned soldier adjusting to civilian life – the war not having changed anything. With these characters we usually do not see their war, when called heroes they differ to fallen comrades, there's always someone worse. In contrast, 'hero syndrome' is someone who can't let go of the spotlight, while a 'hero complex' is someone who needs others to be in a perpetual crisis, even if they trigger it to become the savior. It's not necessary to show the Event to show these characters.

In an ensemble, you will need multiple character flaws that trigger other characters' flaws, potentially devolving into a disfunctional 'anti-team' where each is out for themselves or they become enemies. The crisis of a team is the team dynamics – whether they are Avengers, or Hoosiers, or planning a heist.

non-chronological storytelling

Before the team can matter, readers need to watch these characters inter-relate, understand why they needed each other during the Event, and also see clues how they are intentional and unintentional antagonists and competitors. The Event seems the best way to reveal a lot about these characters – especially in contrast to how they are after, but it doesn't need to be revealed at the beginning.

Individual characters may carry the narrative at different parts. Some characters might dwell on the Event, while others want to move on. How you 'show' the Event is dependent on what sort of story you want to tell, and from whose point-of-view.

In a non-chronological narrative, the Event would be revealed to the reader as it becomes dramatically relevant. Some examples:

Mystery – no individual team member has full-knowledge of what happened, they just know their own part. The reader must piece the Event together through overlapping, biased, sometimes conflicting accounts. Readers don't witness the Event for themselves so there is no objectively 'true' version.

Cover-up – the official story is not what actually happened. The team formed to keep this secret. You might need a protagonist who is outside the core-team, pursuing the truth.

Loss – each member lost someone or something in the first incident, a family member, a reliable partner, a false sense of invincibility. They each had personal reasons for joining this team, unfortunately the team dynamic is not able to replace what they'd lost.

How it starts is how it ends

Stories need to have a sense of starting on a status quo, progressing through a conflict, ultimately finding a new status quo. The opening and ending need to be thematically relevant to the character arcs and worldview. The 'want' established in the opening is settled in the end, or has looped around elliptically to restart again.

If you do show the Event, it will probably feel like a template for the final conflict. The subversion is that it was not as it seemed and we understand the Event differently by the end.

If you do not show the Event, it will probably feel open to interpretation both by the reader and by extension the characters.

Without knowing how your story ends or what you are saying thematically, I can't tell you whether the Event should be included.

If the theme is about how this team is great in a crisis but they suck at being people, we should see their potential to be great. Include it.

If the theme is about murky politics and backstabbing frenemies, the Event might represent an idealized black-and-white conflict where you knew which side you were on, it is mythology. Don't include it.

If the Event had a mustache twirling villain who said he'd come back – and does, include it.

If the Event involved a conspiracy no sane person could comprehend and we were lucky just to survive, only give us unreliable snippets of what happened, and a lot of resistance from people motivated to seize the moment or forget it ever happened.

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In my opinion I would start the plot after the event that caused the creation of the team

Granted, this question is hard to answer since we don't know anything about the plot, but there's something we can add to this; mystery.

Since the creation of the team is linked to an important plot point, potraying every member's view point of the event can add mystery and also a reason to be invested in the other view points in order to get "the full picture" of the aforementioned event.

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