Openers: Starting Too Early

If you’re wondering where I’ve been in my periods of online silence, I’ve been tinkering. I finished writing the new opener for my story. I was very pleased with how it turned out, if a little shocked by how details could make it feel invasively graphic. I had to concede that maybe I shouldn’t be making the reader feel that so early on.

Online, I keep seeing people say, “Don’t start with a dream” or “Don’t start with a wake-up scene.” The reasoning that almost always follows such statements, is that these beginnings are cliché. Well, fine. I’ll write a wake-up scene that breaks the cliché by scaring the pants off of you, faking an action scene. That’ll get you interested. Then I’ll give you a glimpse into my main character’s temple life, and how she feels about it, and throw a kink in it that sends your head as reeling as hers. Problem solved.

But when I cracked open the books on writing that I’ve been hoarding lately, clichés weren’t the reason they gave at all. They said wake-up scenes were indicative of starting a story too early. You’re starting at the beginning of the day, but not necessarily at the beginning of the action. And apparently the action doesn’t matter unless it qualifies as an “inciting incident”—the incident that sets everything else in motion.

Well, I can’t start with the action of the inciting incident; that’s a near-rape scene, and that’s not the expectation I want to set in the first few lines. I have a paranormal romance, which means I have a world with alternate rules to snapshot and two characters to draw together from the very beginning…yet you’re telling me I can’t start with any introductory info? Sure, I can just start with my temple servant character walking into a new scenario that is the catalyst for action. But the moment I tell anyone that my main character is a temple servant, the first thing they ask is about the temple. (-_-); Needing that background to understand the rest of the story is kind of unavoidable. I can sneak mentalities in here and there around transitions, meetings, and dialogue. But the reader HAS to see Pandora (the most obvious villain) in action BEFORE the inciting incident, or you won’t care.

Needless to say, I feel like I’m getting mixed messages. I could make a list of things to cut, but all the tension I just built up for the end of chapter 1 will disappear if I cut the wrong one. I can’t “show” (not tell) and start with action, without horrifying the reader for no apparent reason. Yet I keep reading that having to include background is the mark of an amateur. Which is ironic, because every fantasy novel I’ve ever read starts with elaborate background.

Just a little frustrating.

I do have a good portion of chapter 10 written—enough to constitute a legitimate chapter, but not as long as my normal chapters. I have two more scenes to throw in before it’s ready.

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3 responses to “Openers: Starting Too Early

  1. The rules are just guidelines. 😀 In general, I take all those writers’ handbooks into consideration, but I base the final decision on what’s best for the story.

    Usually, what they mean by “start with action” isn’t necessarily *literal* action, it just means that something has to happen on page one. So, for example, instead of starting with an attempted rape (I agree, not advisable), you could start with a temple ritual that showcases your villain and have the “kink” happen on page 2 (lol, that sounds dirty).

    In my novel, I open with my main character going to a sorceress for help, which is what sets the plot in motion. It’s not exactly action, but it’s pivotal to the rest of the story.

    • When I rewrote the first chapter, I started at the beginning of the day everything changed for my heroine, in order to contrast her life before with the average person, and then contrast her life before vs. after the incident. I’ve been thinking of the inciting incident as the near-rape incident. But maybe I could start instead with her getting sent out on the errand – with her leaving the temple for the errand, and having a run-in with the bully (later-to-be villain) on the way out?

      • That would be equally effective, I think. Just as long as you include some breathing time and worldbuilding before you jump in. There ARE some writers who can make readers care about characters in life-and-death situations right off the bat, but I think it’s better in most cases to let the reader get attached before things start getting serious. Just my two cents, though.

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