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Starting with a bang – how important is conflict in the first chapter of your book?

taste1AI’m building up a little steam on Taste. I remade the cover again today (love the new one) which got me back into writing gear. But I’m having some trouble.

My books aren’t thriller-adventures. I don’t start with explosions and bullets flying. Instead I basically build up the ‘ordinary world’ and then the ‘call to action.’ So the first two or three chapters are just establishing the characters and setting. Some stuff happens, even some exciting/violent stuff.

But these are characters who have known each other a long time. In my paranormal young adult fiction, the characters start in the real world, then get in trouble and have to start over, move to a new school, be thrown into a strange and challenging environment.

Check, I can do that. The trouble is, all the interesting stuff, and conflict with the new characters that are central to the plot, take a few chapters to build up to – after she moves and settles in.

But that might be too slow. I need to start with the action earlier. I need to cut out extra exposition. History and background won’t matter to readers if there aren’t already heroes and villains worth cheering for or hating.

Scenes have to start with the action. And with the main action.

I need to think, what’s the most exciting thing that’s going to happen in this scene? Then start there, right in the shit… then go back and build up to how I got there (TV dramas do this ALL the time – start with the shit, then flash to “12 hours earlier” and tell the whole story leading up to the crisis).

On the other hand, this kind of organization should  probably be left until after I get through the rough draft. I’ve sketched out the first 3 chapters, but I can’t go back and revise yet. Things could change. I have to push forward. I have to figure out the plot, the characters, the motivation.

I can go back again later, once I’ve gotten through it, and tighten up the pacing. I can cut or remove sections if I need to, to move the plot forward more quickly. But I have to know what happens first.

What are your best tips for pacing and keeping readers interested in the beginning? Share below!