In The Sound of Music, Maria sang, “Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” A very good place, indeed. The question is, when is the very beginning and how do you know?
My novel, EMBROL, has had many beginnings. Way too many, and none of them have worked. I’ve wanted them to work, have rewritten, revised, and manipulated them trying to make them work. I’ve even talked myself into believing they were working, but they were all wrong. Why were they all wrong? Because I wasn’t starting at the very beginning, at the inciting incident.
The inciting incident is the moment when the main character’s life is changed so dramatically it yanks her out of her safe, happy world (literally or figuratively) and forces her on some type of journey (physical, emotional, or a combination of the two) to try to regain that safe happiness, though that goal may change as the character grows and develops throughout the story.
I thought my readers needed time to bond with my main character. That way, they would truly feel for her when her world fell to pieces. As a result, I had all this superfluous backstory that was really bogging down my first chapter.
So, even though I love those first scenes, I hit the delete button, setting them free. Well, maybe I banished them to the word graveyard on my hard drive instead, because I can’t really set them free. What if I need them later? Yeah, that hasn’t happened yet. Still, I save everything.
Now, with only a few paragraphs (versus several pages) of set up, my first pages get straight to the major turning point in my main character’s life, hopefully pulling the reader into the story right away, accomplishing what my previous beginnings have not. And of course, the changes I’ve made have triggered other changes later in the story. It’s a vicious cycle, but that’s another post.
So, how do you know where to start your story? Do you think the reader needs time to bond with the character or is it best to get right into the action?