Yesterday, I started revising The King’s Councilor, starting at chapter 1. One of the biggest complaints that my betas had was that my characters had completely perfect lives. They were all happy. In fact, Cassie achieves her goal in the first chapter.
The first time I read it, I was surprised. I started in the action. That’s where the story begins. Cassie’s going to learn that her goal didn’t start there, but it continued as she attempts to find her place on the king’s council. So of course, she has to begin by achieving her goal of becoming a councilor.
Then the second person said it, then the third. There was no denying it. Everyone thought it was too easy. It didn’t matter that the problems arose after she got her new position. They wanted to see the conflict, and they wanted to see trials — right in the first chapter.
I’ve heard the advice to start with action. It’s good advice. I remember when I first began working on Servant of an Empire, I started at the beginning. The story started when the king dies, right? Sure, but that meant there were multiple boring chapters before the actual story started. I started that novel so many times, just to get stuck a few pages in. It wasn’t until I was rereading my outline when I realized that I could cut the first two pages of my outline (12 point font, single spaced) and start where the action really started.
However, it wasn’t until this revision that I realized that maybe it’s not about starting with the action. It would be easy to throw the main character into some crazy situation, maybe almost ran over by a cart or something. Or even when I started with Cassie being presented to the king and achieving her status as councilor. Both of those are action.
So here's my new motto:
Start with the conflict.
What’s the main conflict of the story? Where does your character run across their first stumbling block? That’s what drives the story.
Action sequences? Sure they’re important, but without conflict to guide it, it’ll feel like cheap special effects.