everyone I've ever known has uttered the words, "I'd like to write a
book someday." And for 99.9% of them, "someday" never comes.
Maybe you've said those words yourself. But if you've never sat down
and written those all important first words, your someday will never
But how do you get past that first page, sitting there blank and
people jump right into the story. Then they end up cutting out the
first chapter or so of backstory and exposition and start the book
around what was originally chapter two or three. Other people,
including yours truly, figure out all that backstory and exposition in
the plotting phase, and then they take the time to figure out the point
in the story where the initial change—the inciting incident—occurs.
What event or change throws our hero/heroine into the middle of the
Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, the
inciting incident is the inciting incident. It doesn't change based on
your style of writing. All that differs is how you reach the point
where the story is supposed to begin.
People will give you
helpful hints—start with a catchy first sentence. Start with dialogue.
Or, my personal favorite, start with a gunshot or a bomb blast. Any of
those things works just fine. They all work just fine.
But they won't save your beginning if you've started in the wrong place.
wish I could tell you a failsafe way of figuring out where your story
starts. Take the idea of starting in the middle of the action. The book
I just finished could easily have started with my hero and heroine
taking gunfire unexpectedly. That does happen in the second chapter—so
why didn't I start there?
Because, as exciting and
heart-pounding as that moment might have been, taking gunfire wasn't
the real moment of change for my characters. The change came when the
heroine—a former CIA agent hiding from life in a small mountain
town—discovered that her past had found her. And the hero was part of
that change—manuevered by a CIA master spy into calling an anonymous
phone number, he heard the voice of a woman he'd once loved but thought
he'd lost forever.
That's my inciting incident. Gunfire alone
wouldn't have sent my hero and heroine on the journey on which they
embarked. Finding each other again, in the heart of that danger, is
what spurred them to the actions they took once the gunfire started.
whether you're plotting ahead or writing organically, you still have to
ask yourself the question: what is the one thing that could happen to
make my hero and/or heroine leave behind their settled, comfortable
lives and embark on this strange, scary, exciting and difficult journey?
Find that answer, and you'll know where to start your story.
© 2011 by Paula Graves