Figuring Out Where to Start Your Novel

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The other day I was trying to figure out where to start my story. Trying to figure that out is like trying to figure out where to drop your character head first into a world that already exists and is spinning full speed. My goal was to find the exact moment that matters, the moment that the rest of the story hinges upon.

The world is already in place, the people already exist; who is this character in relation to all of these things?

No pressure, right?

So I needed to figure out the entrance point. First line. First scene. The moment the main character is introduced. The first time we see her/him on the page. A moment that doesn’t move so fast that the reader doesn’t understand (or care) who the main character is, what he/she wants, and what’s going on in the story, and a moment that doesn’t drag so poorly that readers are yawning mid page. I was also mindful about not introducing too many characters too soon, and focusing on putting the main character on the page with the right amount of action (I don’t mean car chases or gun fights, but someone who, right when we see her, is in the middle of doing something that springboards us into the crux of the story). The moment that will make the reader care.

I thought about this (okay, agonized. My husband can attest to this), and tried to find:

The right protagonist to tell this story (the character needs to be fully equipped to deal with all the obstacles I’m going to throw her way)
A character introduction that wasn’t laden with backstory
The correct pacing
The right tone
The right first line
The right supporting cast

My biggest issue: I know the plot, what was supposed to happen in the middle, and I kind of know what’s going to happen in the end. But picking the right moment to introduce the reader to the main character, right before things are going to get really shaken up? Not so easy for me (especially since that first page a thon where I learned that too much description at the start of a novel is like kryptonite).

The entire story hinges upon that beginning. That first line. Whatever happens in that first scene is the launch pad for the rest of the story, so it has to matter, has to be right. Has to make sense for what will follow.

I think I’ve figured it out. I’m one of those writers who can’t outline a story until I have the first five pages written, tone figured out, voice, etc., so getting that first scene down initially is crucial for me at the beginning stages; I can’t outline until I’ve put the character on the page.

After mulling over all of this for a day I think I’ve picked the right moment to start the story. Hopefully one that piques interest without moving too fast or dragging; the one that’s (hopefully!) just right.

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