Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where Does Your Story Start?

As I continue to learn about the writing process, I'm always excited when I hear a piece of advice for the millionth time. It means that piece of advice is probably pretty accurate.

I had this experience at a recent seminar that was filled with people who really hadn't even written a single word of fiction yet. I wish I had heard this piece of advice when I was just starting out, because it is perfect and true.

"In your first draft, your story probably doesn't really start until chapter four."

Or chapter seven. Or, in my most recent first draft, I'm pretty sure it was chapter fourteen. But that's okay, because that's what, as Anne Lamott calls them, shitty first drafts are for.

They're for feeling out your character, finding your voice, edging your way into the story. But, as you revise, you have to be able to lift away the muck that was your warming up writing and yank it out of the story. Get that gunk out of there. Delete it. Or, if you're like me, save it in a different precious little Word document so you can always go back and grab those words if you need them. Another piece of advice: you'll probably never need them.

It's hard to take a hatchet to your book. But your story will be better served if you can get right down to it sooner. So write away. Then as you revise, take a close look at where things really start shaking, and let your story begin there.


  1. Great topic. I agree with everything you said. In my current story, I started out several times before realizing where the story starts.

    In my next one, partially written, I was very conscious of that "four chapters in" rule. I tried it, and it totally worked! Even though I bypassed the original incident that sparks the event that the story opens with. It just totally works.

  2. Hi Sierra!

    Glad to know your current story got off to a roaring start. What did you consciously do different to avoid those saggy first few chapters with this manuscript?

    I file this topic under the area of "Things I wish I knew when writing my first book." I keep saying that seventh book of mine is going to be just fabulous!!

  3. Nah, you can apply this principle now to your current WIP!

    What I did differently: I thought to myself, what is the true action of the start of the story? Is it when Character A first meets Character B? Yes, but that's not interesting because they haven't done anything yet. Is it when Character A gets pissed off at some people and leaves the event she's attending, and then sees Character B? No.

    I started the story after they'd met, by which they'd had time to wreak havoc! Now THAT was interesting (to me, yes, to me). So my first line is a statement about what they've done. Well, it pulled me in, anyway. :)

  4. Haha! I, too, save my "deleted scenes" in a separate file, which I then hardly ever need again. It's important to do whatever it takes to make you willing to cut the fluff.