more about beginnings

So on my sfnovelists post, someone asked the following in the comments. It’s such a great question, but I don’t know that I have a great answer. I am, however, going to take a stab at it. I would like for all of you to jump in, though.

The question:

Diana I find I start writing but on the first edit after I’ve finished the first draft I will eliminate up to 7 chapters at the beginning because I’ve mainly written backstory. I don’t know why I do this, but it happens every time even if I plot the story out in its entirety. The first couple of chapters lets me get into my characters heads and then the story takes off from there. Don’t know how to break this habit. Do you have any suggestions?

The answer, or the beginning of the answer at least for me, lies in the nature of the book. A new book–one that is not in an established world–requires a lot of worldbuilding. And I think that’s one reason why writers end up writing a lot of early chapters that aren’t really the beginning. They want to establish the world and the characters. The context does matter. But the problem is that readers might not stick with the story long enough for you to get underway. It’s a good idea if you can get some conflict going early. Or else work in those details of the world as they are needed.

Another reason for starting earlier than the book needs is that a writer is unsure about the characters. He hasn’t figure out their voices or who they are and those chapters are necessary for discovering that–necessary to the writer’s process. They might allow the writer to really understand the characters in order to be able to write the book at all.

Sometimes the writer doesn’t really know what the book is about. Those early chapters that seem pointless were a try at nailing it down. Maybe a false start. Maybe as they began writing, the story evolved into something else, something better.

In the end, I’m not sure there’s any good way to rid yourself of that part of your process. In time, you may find ways to become acquainted with your characters (I sometimes interview mine), or you may sort out the story better so that you know exactly what it is when you start. But you may not. This may be your process.

But I open the floor to anyone else who wants to take a shot at this question. What do you think?

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