Is a quick-paced beginning the best way to start a story? It’s one thing to launch with an inciting incident, it’s another to have characters running from an unknown and unseen assailant. While some might think this is a “hooky” approach, what it often does is alienate the reader because she feels as though she’s turned the TV on in the middle of an action movie. She doesn’t know the characters or the situation, so why should she care? Why should she continue to watch the movie or read the book? At least with a movie, she might be drawn in by a certain actor she admires, or the hunky looks of the hero. But in a novel, the reader doesn’t have that visual benefit.
How is this approach different from starting with an action-based inciting incident? Knowledge. It’s fine to start in the middle of a scene and even have that particular scene be exciting and tension-filled. But, the writer has to take the time to share some information with the reader. Make sure she has the chance to get her bearings and understand the context for the action taking place. She needs to know whether or not the POV character is the protagonist or a side-kick, and why she should care about this individual. Slip some of this information to the reader and she’ll jump right into the story without looking back.
How do you start your stories? Do you build them up with information and then spring into action or do you try to do it all at once? Have you read stories and felt lost right from the beginning because the author didn’t set things up properly? If you’ve experienced this, did you continue to read anyway or put the book down?
Note: “The reader” in this post was referred to as a female simply to make for a smoother read.