It’s hard to determine a story’s turning points if you don’t know where it begins. Duh, right? But a large part of my pre-writing phase has been focused on figuring out what is back-story and what’s not.
It sounds like such a simple concept, but beginning too early or too late can be the death of an otherwise good manuscript. In my experience judging contest entries—and with my own writing—the temptation to start too early is especially strong.
In our desire to make sure the reader understands what’s going on, we’re tempted to throw in everything that’s happened to the hero since birth. While some books do this well, in my opinion the best books start with a change, or a foreshadowing of change. That is, a spark or catalyst that logically sets things in motion.
I recently judged a contest entry where the writing—the element of getting words on the page in a coherent and interesting fashion that makes me want to keep reading—was good. Unfortunately, the author started too far back and I eventually grew impatient for the “real story” to start already.
In my own manuscript, Slow Burn, I originally had opening scenes where the hero’s brother is kidnapped, the hero gets shot, and later the heroine escapes from a boat into the ocean and then struggles to survive the cold water. Some of those scenes were pretty exciting, but when I tried to figure out what the goal of the scenes were in relation to the story I realized I’d started too early in the characters' lives.
Where did things really change for them in a relevant way? When Steve found Libby floating in the water.
That was the inciting incident. (And coincidentally, or not, that scene was the original spark for the whole book.) It brought them together, started them on their initial journey, and paved the way for my first turning point. Everything I’d written before that became back-story that I sprinkled throughout the MS.
And in fact, not immediately knowing how or why Libby ended up in the ocean creates a story question that hopefully entices the reader to keep reading.
What about you? Do you struggle with where to start?