Self-Editing: Beginnings

Those of you who regularly follow my blog will know that I recently published a novella on Self-Editing. It's basically all the things I've learnt about editing my own work over the last ten years. It also covers the mistakes I see beginner writers make whenever I judge competitions or critique their work. Today I thought I'd give you a little tip from the book about how to edit your beginning.

The hardest thing about starting a novel is knowing where to begin. A lot of newbies feel like they have to set the scene and explain everything up front, which means the beginning is kind of slow. There's often a lot of rambling like the protagonist getting ready for the day, driving to work, saying hello to colleagues etc. When I wrote my first manuscript, a fantasy novel called Elemental Knowledge, I rambled for a whole chapter, which eventually I had to cut.

So how do you avoid rambling?

You could try starting in the middle of a scene. Skip all the information about Frank driving to the coffee shop, ordering a cup of coffee and paying for it, and get straight to the part where he turns, bumps into someone and spills coffee all over them. ​

You could also look at your manuscript and identify your inciting incident - that event that sets the whole story​ into motion. After you've identified that, start your story as close as possible to the incident.

Another common mistake I see is a tendency to give a whole lot of backstory straight away. Backstory is information about events that happened prior to the story starting. It could be details of the protagonist's childhood, or a traumatic incident, but often the reader doesn't need to know that information at the start. Sometimes it's better to keep it a secret, but hint at it, so to keep your reader intrigued and wanting to read on. If you tell them everything all at the beginning, why should they read on?

Ask yourself, "Does the reader need to know this information for the story to make sense?" If the answer is yes, then ask yourself, "Does the reader need to know this now?"​ If not, then cut the information and add it later when it's more appropriate.

If you want more detail on improving your story, check out my Self-Editing novella. It's only $3.99 for the ebook, or $9.99 for print.​