Book Beginnings: Where to Start?

Photo credit: Mine
I’ve been doing a lot of editing and critiquing lately. Between working on my WIP, reading for CPs and being semi completely addicted to Write on Con’s critique boards, I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve spent several days switching between several forms of critiquing and editing. 

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? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Does your novel start in the right place? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses how to determine a good place to begin. (Click to tweet) 
The right book beginning is key to hooking your readers. Did you start your novel in the right place? (Click to tweet)


J. A. Bennett said...

I always seem to start too early, but I'm learning. Hopefully I'll figure it out for real one day :)

Ava Jae said...

It's a good thing to learn, and in the meantime we always have revisions to tweak the beginning to the right place. :)

Grace said...

I usually begin my stories too early, but that's okay for a first draft. It helps to give me time to flesh out the backstory, the setting, and get to know the characters. Then in my edits and rewrites, I often trim off some (or a lot) of the original beginning.

Ava Jae said...

As you said, that's totally fine for first drafts. Those early beginnings can be really useful for figuring out first drafts, but as you also said, it's usually a good idea to trim them while editing. :)

Rachel Anne Marks said...

Great points! Love the way you break down the other books! *all of which I love, BTW*

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Rachel! And I love those books as well. Which is why I chose them. :D

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