Where to Start Your Novel

In doing the final edit for my second novel, Staying Afloat, I questioned where the story should really start. I came across this helpful article written by literary agent, Carly Watters of PS Literary.

The True Beginning

Posted on July 29, 2011 by Carly Watters

Does your novel start in the right place? Read on for tips…

Do you know where to start your novel?

Successful commercial fiction doesn’t start with first words you ever put on the page. The start is where the true beginning lies. It’s where the book takes off. It’s where subtle character introduction meets engrossing plot. I don’t mean an interesting memory or event. I mean riveting, don’t want to put it down, if I only requested three chapters I need more, stat! In today’s age of short Twitter-like attention spans, online reading communities that give you quick starred reviews as well as editors and agents who have piles of reading on their desk and computers you need to grab someone’s attention and keep it.

What is a true beginning? 

The true beginning is a natural introduction into the world you’ve created, a thematic incantation, a jump into action–whatever suits the commercial angle of your work and you know it best. It is often padded within the first few chapters and needs a keen eye to reveal it.

How do I get my beginning to where it needs to be?

Don’t settle for a beginning you think can work, settle for the one that keeps people reading. Be honest with the shortcomings of your work as you write and edit.

  • Does your beginning take time to introduce each character and trait or can we learn that as we go?
  • Are you showing the introduction or telling us a story that details are skillfully tucked into?
  • Does the dream, memory, prologue or hindsight reflection that starts the novel help set the reader up to understand the story better or is it confusing when the reader doesn’t know the characters, plot or setting yet?

When in the editing and revision stage know that your first page, ten pages, three chapters are set to impress. Then make sure your whole manuscript flows with equal pace. Including sample material in your query that comes from your ‘best chapter’ will not suffice. Your whole book needs to be filled with your best chapters. Don’t be afraid to kill the darlings.

Agents and editors have limited time to become attached to the merit of sample chapters. Those who have full client rosters are looking for a reason to put it down. Those who are looking for authors are still looking to be impressed. Don’t give anyone a reason to pass on work based on an unpolished opening.

Tip: Think about your project farther along in the publishing process to keep you motivated. With many marketing plans including sample chapters online or in the back of like-minded novels, Amazon ‘Look Inside!’ functions, and more know how important beginnings are to attracting and keeping readers at all stages of the publishing process.

Are you setting your sample material up for success? Check if the beginning of your submission is the true beginning. Great beginnings set you up for great pacing throughout the novel.


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