One of my very favorite pieces of writing advice is “start with a change.” Since receiving that, writing beginnings has been a lot easier. I almost (almost) always know where to start the story. All I have to do (haha) is figure out which event knocks the entire story into motion.
Before I heard this piece of advice, I often heard “start with action.” Which seems reasonable. It’s better than starting with boring, right? But I think there’s a difference between action and change. Action can be change, and change can be action — but they aren’t necessarily the same thing. If you want to start with action, it’s important to make sure your action is also a change.
The word action can so easily get confused into meaning car chases, magical battles, and sword fights. Those are action scenes, right? They’re big and exciting and actiony. Except when I appear in someone’s head and they’re in the middle of a sword fight, there’s a whole list of things I don’t know.
1. Why am I in that person’s head?
2. Why now?
3. Who is this person?
4. Why do I care whether they win or lose? Just because I’m in their head doesn’t mean I care about them.
5. Where the heck am I?
Questions aren’t a bad thing for the reader to have, but when I — as a reader — hop into a story and there are so many immediately … it’s difficult for the author to answer the right ones at the right time, and do so before I get fed up and read a different book. If I don’t know a character, it’s hard for me to care whether they win or get hurt. I have no emotional connection to them, and the first thing I know about them is they fight. (That can be good or bad; it probably depends on the situation.) And when there’s action and sword fighting to describe, it’s difficult to simultaneously ground the reader while keeping up the pace of a fast fight. It can be done! But it’s a tough skill.
Which is not to say that starting with action can’t work. It certainly can! (Anyone have examples?) But in general, I feel action for the sake of action — without clear stakes or emotional connection to the character — is boring at best. But change — now that is interesting. Start as close to the change as possible. Give me a character, a situation, and then change it, either by outside forces or the character’s own decision. Just intrigue me.
Make sure you click through to read the post in its entirety. Jodi expands on the idea that even though it’s exciting to start in the middle of an action scene, it can also be confusing for your reader. You might not give them the chance to connect with your characters, understand the world and become invested in the story.
Remember, as always: you have to know the rules to break the rules.