|Photo credit: Mine|
I’m not complaining—I love it. But because of that, I’ve read a fair share of opening scenes lately that reminded me of the importance of starting your novel in the right place.
Deciding where to start your book can be a difficult task. Oftentimes, new writers especially will fall into the trap of starting their novels too early, dumping a load of backstory at the beginning before the action starts. While this can be useful for first drafts to help the writer understand more about the story, when it comes to revised drafts for the readers, it’s often necessary to cut the backstory and weave it throughout the prose.
The key to starting your novel in the right place is to start the first scene right at the cusp of where the story begins.
That may sound obvious, but it actually requires you to think about where your story starts. Usually, and most effectively, this is right before the inciting incident—that is, the event that changes the course of your protagonist’s life.
Let’s take a look at a few published novels and analyze where their respective authors began their stories:
Inciting Incident: When Alina’s convoy is attacked in The Fold, she unwittingly awakens a dormant power that she never knew she had.
Where the story starts: Alina and the convoy are about to enter The Fold.
Inciting Incident: Katniss’s sister is chosen during The Reaping to enter The Hunger Games, so Katniss takes her place to save her life.
Where the story starts: Her last hunting expedition just before The Reaping.
Inciting Incident: Hazel meets Augustus Waters, the boy who turns her life upside down (in a good way).
Where the story starts: At the Cancer Support Group, just before Hazel meets Augustus.
I think the pattern here is pretty clear.
Identifying the right place to start your novel is easier than you might think—once you’ve established your inciting incident, all you need to determine is where to start that gives your readers just enough information about your character and their surroundings to care when the incident arrives.
Because just at the moment when your readers begin to connect to your characters is when you want to throw your characters into the event that will change everything for them.
How do you determine where to start your story?