Recently I was prompted to revisit the start of my otherwise completed second novel. I am indebted to Cate Hogan http://bit.ly/1QIYuhd for her insights into creating interesting characters, which brought about this reassessment. It made me think that the introductory chapters of the novel should be more dynamic. I was reminded of some writerly advice along the lines of, if the story doesn’t get going until chapter three, that’s where you should start. The week before submission, I decided the beginning of the novel needed a complete overhaul.
I considered the following:
- Was the beginning as gripping as it could be?
- Did it draw the reader into the story immediately?
- Did I really need to dump all that information in the first chapters?
- Did my heroine come across well, as someone the reader would want to invest time in getting to know?
- Was too much backstory presented too early?
All of which begs the question: Does the story start in the right place? Was I happy to tell readers about my heroine, about her working life and the personal issues she was struggling with, or would it make a better story if I dropped her right in the middle of the action and revealed her character through her actions and responses?
When I thought about it like that (and it’s not always obvious when we’re constructing storylines and subplots and building credible characters to inhabit them) there was no contest. I immediately rewrote the first three chapters to accommodate this change of heart and I think I’ve got a far better beginning because of it. It’s more energetic and vigorous than previously, devoid of lengthy, telling descriptions and full of action and interplay between characters that reveals far more than several paragraphs of explanation.
Altering the starting point had a profound effect on this novel, which moved me to change the title, too. It’s also influenced the early chapters of my new WiP. A lightbulb moment that had far-reaching consequences.
Good questions that really need to be answered… thank you for sharing.
Hope it was helpful, Julie
I’ve got a critique partner who is magical in her ability to figure out where your story should actually start. I very rarely keep the chapter I wrote as chapter one as chapter one. Once I know where the story ends, then I can figure out where it needs to begin.
I agree – it’s pointless spending too much time editing that first chapter when it might change dramatically, or get dropped altogether, when we’ve written the end of the story.
Yes that’s very true. I wonder if we all cut to chapter 3 would it be beneficial in our own wip’s? Or even in some published novels?
I can think of several published novels that could be improved by starting in a different place. In my own writing there’s an undeniable tendency to get carried away with the flow of words. And it’s very difficult to murder our darlings, isn’t it?
Always! After all, our darlings are our favourites!
Lucky your friend is so helpful. Most of us struggle along hopefully that w have i right. I doubt many of us o. Evelyn
It’s always worthwhile getting another opinion, even if you disagree with it!