This week’s video talks about a few of the problems and warning signs of beginning a story too early in the plot.
Video Transcript: Authors are always being warned not to begin their stories too soon. The idea of beginning in medias res—or “in the middle of things”—is popular these days because it plunges readers into the plot right away without dragging them through pages of backstory or setup. But at the same time we have to give readers enough backstory and setup to make sure they’re able to understand the characters, the plot, and the stakes within the overall context. As a result, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out exactly the best spot to open your story. Today, I want to talk particularly about how to tell when your story begins too soon.
The first question you need to ask yourself is, “What is the first dramatic event in the plot?” Finding this event will help you figure out the first domino in your story’s line of dominoes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that should be your first scene. Sometimes that first domino can take place years before the story proper and therefore will be better told as a part of the backstory. However, nine times out of ten, this will be your best choice for a beginning scene.
Another thing to keep in mind is the placement of your first major plot point, which should occur around the 25% mark. If you begin your story too soon or too late, you’ll jar the balance of your book and force your major plot points at the 25%, 50%, and 75% marks off schedule. So consider your first plot point, which will be the first major turning point for your characters and, as a result, often the inciting event. The setup that occurs before these scenes should take no more than a quarter of the book. Anymore, and it’s a guarantee that you’ve begun your story too early and need to do some cutting. But the most important thing to keep in mind is the most obvious: No deadweight. The beginning doesn’t have to be race-‘em-chase-‘em, particularly since you need to take the time to introduce and set up characters, but it has to be tight. Otherwise, your readers are gone.
Tell me your opinion: Have you ever begun a story too soon?
Related Posts: Dostoevsky and the Art of In Medias Res
10 Ways to Strengthen Your Beginning
What a Mouse Can Teach You About Story Arc
Story by K.M. Weiland