Where to Start a Novel

In classic literature, authors would take paragraphs, even chapters to introduce you to the main character and often give a complete family background and history. They’d tell you everything they could. And, readers would dutifully hang in there and read it all. Why? Because there weren’t a million other things vying for their attention. In the 19th Century, there weren’t TVs, Smartphones, Computers, or Social Media. No, folks who could read sat and read by candlelight through the long dark winters. They memorized passages. They talked with others about the books they’d read. And, because most had few books, they re-read everything many times.

Things are different today. Readers (and everyone else) has been influenced by TV, Movies, and Media in all forms. We have shorter attention spans. We want to be caught up and immersed before we have time to think about anything else. 

Writers need to be aware of this, conscious of the desires and needs of readers. There’s plenty of time in a novel-length work to share the issues that got the main character into the chase scene or the murder or the moment of change that is setting off the story into motion. Readers expect to be immersed into the story from the very first paragraph.
In writer terms, this is called: in medias res … narrative that beings in the middle of the plot, in the middle of the action. 

By all means, write out the family history and the background of your main character and all the other characters, too. But, in the second or third draft, find a spot where your story kicks into high gear, the moment that changes the protagonists direction in life, the moment just before or as they leap off a cliff. That’s the place to begin and capture your reader. Once captured, feel free to tell the reader all about your main character and their parental relationships…say in chapter six.