You’re saying, well, duh. But it’s not as simple as it sounds.
I want to talk real quick about one of my earlier versions of Holy Fudgesicles.
This actually dates back to last year when I was preparing to attend the RMFW Conference. I first noticed a potential problem when one of the classes I planned to attend asked us to bring the first twenty pages of a novel. After looking over those first twenty pages (which were basically the first two chapters) I thought: But nothing happens until chapter three.
Here am I on the internet pretending to be somebody who at least knows the basics, yet I’m starting a novel with twenty pages of character introductions and back-story. (Note from JB: To be fair, I did learn to write by reading a lot of Stephen King, and most of his novels don’t seem to start until after at least a hundred pages have gone by.)
Anyhow, since I’ve always been a guy who can respect a good shortcut, I came up with a way to begin the novel with the actions from the third chapter, but without really having to change anything.
How? lolz…I actually convinced myself that it would be an acceptable idea to simply cut the first three paragraphs from chapter three, paste them at the beginning of the novel, and then use a flashback to keep the original first two chapters intact without having to change anything else.
I actually planned to pitch a novel that begins with a short active scene, and then instantly puts the reader on hold for a twenty page flashback.
Anyhow, after a four-hour long class on beginnings, and a brand new, shiny red pen, I was able to completely eliminate the flashback scene in time for the pitch, never to be heard from again.
It cleaned up well. In the published version, there is no flashback at all and the few relevant details from those now thrown-out chapters were included later in more relevant non-flashbacky ways, such as a quick mention from the narrator.
Where is “the change”?
I think the most important thing is to figure out where “the change” takes place. “The change” is where your story actually begins. It’s where either the reader or the character realizes that something has disrupted the routine of the regular life of the protagonist.
In other words, don’t make your reader watch your protagonist get out of bed, put on some clothes, and brush his teeth. Show him the giant UFO hovering over his house right away.
Try this: Read your story until you find “the change.” Then draw a big red line across the page.
That red line is really where your story starts. Try to make it the forefront of your story and leave all the details and buildup for later.
Or, as the saying goes, “Keep the back-story in the back of the story.”