Today I will continue my series on Common Writing Mistakes Made by New Writers (Like me) with "Beginning with Chapter One." If you want to catch up on the other posts (in no paticular order), read Back Up the Dump Truck, Battling Backstory, Talking to Yourself, and Couch Potato Characters.
Today's common writing mistake is starting your book with "chapter one." Most new writers start their books in the wrong spot. This has become obvious to me in the two fiction mentorship classes I have taken at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference (with authors Randy Ingermanson and Brandilyn Collins) and I've seen it noted by various agents in blog posts about writing (See Agent Kristin).
Generally, we "newbie" writers spend the first few chapters introducing our characters and the setting, giving copious detail (See Battling Backstory) without doing much of anything to move the story along. The story itself doesn't begin until chapter two or three.
Randy explained that most writers need to take their first chapter, toss it in the trash and start their novel at chapter two. Brandilyn Collins stressed finding your "inciting incident" that throws your character into turmoil. That's where you begin. It creates interest, tension and suspense -- just what you need to keep the reader turning pages.
I didn't know about this when I wrote my first novel, Shaken, so I had to go back and fix the problem. Now I'm "educated," it should be simple to start out writing a book at chapter two, right? Wrong! When I sat down recently to begin the sequel to Shaken (I'm hoping to make it a three-part series) I struggled desperately with that first chapter. I wrote probably a dozen "chapter ones." None of them seemed right. I despaired of ever getting the book off the ground. But the process of writing helped me to hone my character's motivations so that I could create the ultimate inciting incident. Once I nailed that, the true starting place of the novel jumped out of hiding. All of the other "chapter ones" went into the trash.
So, here's your mission -- should you choose to accept it. Go to your work in progress and find your inciting incident. Is it in chapter one? Or is it buried in chapter three? Get busy with that delete key. Good luck and happy writing.