Friday, September 3, 2021

How do You Start Writing Your Story in the Right Place?

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

By writing heroes who do stuff!

Imagine this: You pick up what promises to be a captivating adventure. True heroes in death-defying circumstances. A gorgeous cover. Even an endorsement by a recognizable name. 

Fantastic, right? 

Then, you spend the first chapter learning all the background of the main character and why it matters. 

Okay, well, surely the story will begin in chapter two.

But no, you read all about the exciting world where the character lives. Maybe you meet a few of his or her friends in rapid succession, so rapidly in fact that you can’t remember their names. 

Not a problem. The story will begin in chapter three. 

But, no, you backtrack and learn more about the character’s history and their family and their intense emotional pain in chapter three. And in chapter four. And in chapter five. Mixed in with playful banter between friends who you still can’t remember their names. And it’s set in a gorgeously described world that doesn’t really resonate with you. 

Would you continue reading chapter six? 

Maybe? Depends on how well I know the author. Just saying. Life’s too short, and my TBR pile is too tall.

Recently I’ve noticed authors writing stories that go five or six (or more) chapters before the inciting incident occurs. And maybe I’m old-fashioned (no, I know I am), but that’s WAY too long to go before you start your story. 

Let me back up in case there are those among us who are unfamiliar with the seemingly antiquated terminology of the three-act structure. (Shakespeare is rolling over in his grave, y’all.)

What is the Inciting Incident?

This storytelling element is the moment where your story begins. It’s the event that happens to your main character that forces him or her out of normal life and launches the adventure.

Why does the Inciting Incident Matter? 

It’s what starts the story. Until the story begins, nothing is happening. It’s just character introduction, world building, set up, and other content that (frankly) can usually be cut out. 

Here’s the trouble. 

Inciting incidents can be a bit daunting because storytellers tend to think that they must introduce their characters and their worlds completely before readers will connect with them. And, to a certain extent, there is truth in that, especially in speculative fiction. 

If you’re writing a high fantasy novel with talking fox people and sentient sycamores that do the Viennese waltz, we need some background before the story takes off. But the vast majority of us aren’t writing stories like that. I mean, some of us are (pretty sure I got a pitch for something like this recently). But even then, your readers won’t connect with your story world until they connect with your characters. And they can’t connect with your characters until they DO SOMETHING.

That’s where the inciting incident comes in. We don’t know your characters until we see them in action. We can’t connect with them until they face a tough decision and make a choice that upends their entire life.

In the opening chapters where you spend all your space and word count on the world or the setting or the main character’s history or introducing us to their band of merry men, your protagonist isn’t doing anything. He or she is just sitting passively waiting for something to happen, and that’s not what heroes do. 

Real heroes do stuff, y’all. 

Storytelling that captivates readers is high tension, increasing personal stakes, and relatable character voice. None of those story elements are passive. 

So how do you do this? How do you balance introducing your character and your world with an inciting incident that lands in chapter one or chapter two?

There’s no one-size-fits all answer. Every story is different. Every character and world is different. But I use a general rule of thumb for my own writing, and it seems to work fairly well. 

Every sentence is a stepping stone. 

The goal for your opening sentence in chapter one is to get your readers to read the second sentence in chapter one. The same is true from paragraph to paragraph, from page to page. Chapter one should make your readers desperate for chapter two, and so on and so forth. 

Let us live the story alongside your protagonist, and we will fall in love with the world when we love your characters. And the best way to help us love your heroes is to show us how they respond when the sky is falling.

Always remember that your readers don’t owe you anything. They aren’t going to read your book just because you wrote it. You have to earn their time and attention, and that means you can’t give them any excuse to stop reading. We’re competing with YouTube and Netflix, you know.

Don’t waste your audience’s attention span describing stuff. Start the story as soon as you can. Reveal the world through the character’s eyes as the story unfolds. Keep the tension high on every page. And you’ll have a story worth reading, even if it does include talking fox people and waltzing sycamores. 


A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if isn’t, her socks will never match. She likes her road trips with rock music, her superheroes with snark, and her blankets extra fuzzy, but her first love is stories and the authors who are passionate about telling them. Learn more about her book coaching services and follow her adventures on social media @ACW_Author.

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