The first page, part 2 - Figure out where to start your story

This is continuing my series on things to look for in your first page.
Click here for part one.

Figure out where to start your story

You don’t need cars blowing up or gunfights or a grotesque witch dying a horrible death to open your story (although if you do have those things, that’s a good thing, too).

All you need is something different.

You need something unusual happening that will perk your reader’s attention.

You need something disrupting the character’s normal life.

You need just the intimation of some type of change or upheaval.

This means you don’t start with backstory or telling or explanations about who the character is and why they’re there and what has happened to him before this scene.

You start with the action spurred on by Change in the character’s life.

I’ve seen too many manuscripts that started in the wrong place. The character’s “ordinary world” is introduced, but it’s not an active, engaging opening for the story.

You need to start with the change to the character’s ordinary world. If you start within the ordinary world, you run the risk of starting the story too slowly.

Try to avoid the “happy person in a happy world” type of opening. Instead, start with something disturbing your character.

James Scott Bell teaches a “Chapter two switcheroo” technique that works well for most of his students. Basically, you toss out chapter one and make chapter two your first chapter, revising and tweaking chapter two so that it makes sense, but still starting the story with the action there.

Just as an experiment, why not try the switcheroo and see how that works for you? Ask critique partners or ask for volunteer readers—find a few who have not seen the original version of the story—and collect feedback on the new opening. You might be surprised at how much better it might make your story.

Click here for part three.


  1. I've changed my opening several times to every story I've ever written. For me, it's the hardest part to write.

  2. Aubrie, that's normal, so don't feel like you're alone!

  3. Camy, I believe you just gave me my answer. I've changed my beginning so many times over the years in search of that "something disrupting the character’s normal life" and felt that I had found it, but still it didn't seem active and engaging enough, but yet felt right in other ways. I think my problem is that I wrote that immediate 'disruptive' something in the wrong POV.

    Thanks for this.

  4. I'm glad this was helpful, Eileen!

  5. OH. MY. GOSH. Absolute perfect sense. I did this and it works SO much better for the story...I actually got all excited AGAIN over writing the beginning! Chapter Two Switcheroo. Awesome.

    Thanks for the synopsis worksheet, as well. I'm definitely getting a lot out of that in preparation for the conference.


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