Crystal Kamm

Written by

Crystal Kamm

15 April 2021

Writing Tips

Start Your Story Late

The less information you can provide before the first “gate of no return,” the better. Here’s why you should start your story late.

In the first draft of my adventure novel, I wrote 8 whole chapters before my character even started to think about going on the mission, or passing the “gate of no return.” It read like a rambling narrative. It felt like too much. In fact, I was enjoying my character’s real life so much that I was starting to not want her to go on the mission at all. This would obviously have ruined the whole story.

Here’s an example of what I mean. The Outlander series is one of the inspiration novels I studied while preparing to write my own. In this book, action occurs quickly without warning. In fact, Claire has already gone through the stones to 18th century Scotland by the end of chapter 1. (That’s only a spoiler if you haven’t finished reading chapter 1. You should get on with it! It’s a great series).

So in order to start my story “late,” I had to get to the point a lot faster. I began to condense chapters, cutting lots and lots of ideas. For example, the scene I wrote featuring my MC bonding with her best friend isn’t necessary to the story’s advancement. I could easily cut it. Many writers are afraid to cut scenes because of some personal attachment to them. In this case, cutting the scene is better for the story than keeping it would be. If it makes you feel better, not one word that you write for your novel is wasted work, even if it’s not used in the final draft. The process of writing each scene is important for you to learn more about characters and their relationship dynamics. Once you know this, your scenes can be so much more powerful!

Why start late?

Most writers put in way too much information in early drafts. Too much information is incredibly useful to the writing process as it helps distill scenes and characters down to their essence. As a writer, an important skill to develop is the ability to recognize which scenes you wrote were exercises. Just because you wrote it, doesn’t mean your readers have to. Instead, think of them as ways for you to better learn about your characters.

For example, in my novel, I knew that my character loved her best friend and hoped that she would return to him one day. Writing a long and sappy scene about why they loved each other and wanted to be together was how I first discovered the depth of their feelings. But that long and sappy scene was unbearable to read. It was basically real-life: sloppy and inarticulate. So I distilled their friendship down to one element that could show both the depth of their love and their commitment to the friendship. It took about 6 drafts to get there, but what I present to readers is a version that is airtight and powerful.

TL;DR: My belief is that the entire purpose of first and second drafts of novels is the process of learning about your world and characters so you can portray them better. It’s not until draft three that you actually begin writing the novel.

Note: All purchase links in this post are affiliate links through BookShop.org, and Novlr may earn a small commission – every purchase supports independent bookstores.