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A fight in the first chapter:

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ChasingSuns, Jan 10, 2016.

  1. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

    So I have heard several times that it is not a good idea to have a fight take place within the first chapter of a story. I can understand this, since the reader hasn't really had enough time to really get invested in the characters, so the stakes might not seem very high. But what if you aren't trying to make it seem like they are?

    For example: in my current story, the protagonist gets ambushed by a small group of bandits. A small fight breaks out, and the protagonist is victorious. This attack does have something to do with the plot of the story though, because there is a question of how the bandits knew that the protagonist was traveling with a noblewoman, and how they knew where they would be (they were sent by someone else). I wanted to show the protagonist's fighting skills early on, because he is already a very talented fighter. I wanted to do this to give the reader some kind of way to gauge exactly how dire the situation gets later in the story. When this experienced warrior is struggling in battle against stronger forces later on, you KNOW that the stakes are high and that these enemies are really tough. I don't need the reader to feel invested in whether or not this character dies in this particular scene because this fight isn't much of a challenge. Also, the way that he kills the bandit leader is kinda brutal, which I thought worked to show a little bit of the character's darker side.

    Is this a good idea? Like I said, I know that a lot of people say to not put a fight scene this early into the story, but I'm just wondering what my fellow scribes have to say about it.
  2. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Troubadour

    I think this could work. The biggest problem with fight scenes in first chapters as far as I can see is that they can seem really long and drawn out especially when the reader hasn't invested in the characters. Keeping the battle short and sweet though with a lighter tone could definitely work.

    I think scale of the fight also has a lot to do with it. I wouldn't want to open a book in the middle of a battle between four massive armies vying for the throne of some kingdom I haven't even been introduced to yet but a tavern brawl or a few bandits in the woods can be exiting. The key, I think, is to keep it personal. I know I've read stories that opened with the protagonist fighting for their life that totally worked (although I'm blanking on examples at the moment) I've never read one that worked where the author expected me to care about the bigger concepts of the book before grounding me in the world and characters.
    ChasingSuns and arboriad like this.
  3. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

    This is what I was thinking as well. There are only a handful of bandits (about 6 or 7), and only three of them get killed (two by another character, one by the main character), and the rest scatter. It definitely does have a lighter tone than future fights in the story, mainly because I wanted to make sure that the tone showed the low stakes of the fight. Also, the fight is pretty short. Much of the chapter revolves around the characters traveling to a particular location.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I know this isn't really very helpful, but: the only thing you should not do early in your story is ... anything that doesn't work. If it works (as in, your readers like it), then it belonged there.

    The question is not, should I or should I not put a fight scene in the first chapter of my book.
    The question is, should I or should I not put *this* fight scene in the first chapter of my book.

    To add a bit of substance to the above koan, this means first and foremost the fight scene needs to work for the author. Second, it needs to work for the beta readers or crit group or whoever sees it next. Then it needs to make it past the editor(s). Then the buying public needs to like it, by which time it's too late to change it. But if it makes it through all those hoops, then yeah, it was a great idea to put that fight scene in the first chapter.
    ChasingSuns likes this.
  5. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Actually not putting a fight scene in the first chapter of a book is one of the pieces of advice I've never heard. And I've heard a lot.

    My thought is do what works for the book. And in my latest WIP, an epic fantasy, I start with a massive battle between the elves and the machina. The elves lose and are forced from their homeland, which is the absolute start of the book and brings them to the MC and gets him involved. I couldn't write the story without that battle.

    Cheers, Greg.
    ChasingSuns likes this.
  6. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Chase scenes at the beginning of a story are not uncommon and they lend themselves to violent encounters.
    ChasingSuns likes this.
  7. Velka

    Velka Sage

    As long as the fight is there to make the reader ask questions and pique interest, then there's nothing 'wrong' with having one in the first chapter. If it's there to get the reader to 'care' about a character then it falls flat, because the reader hasn't really met the character yet or have reason to care.
    ChasingSuns likes this.
  8. MiguelDHorcrux

    MiguelDHorcrux Minstrel

    If you are certain that the fight has a purpose, then go for it. Just keep things grounded though. You don't want terraforming magic on your first page, as that will require a hell lot of information regarding your magic system, and that might dumb down to an info dump. I remember reading a trilogy called Swordmage and its prologue was a battle between Geran Hulmaster and an elf. It was vital to the entire story as it explained why the protagonist was exiled and the antagonist was vengeful.
    ChasingSuns likes this.
  9. indonesiancat

    indonesiancat Dreamer

    If you begin with a fight, it has to be executed really well. A fight early on can either be an amazing spectacle that will get the reader interested, or it will just leave them confused. My suggestion is that if you want that fight to happen, you gotta be extremely inspired and have a rocksolid script to make it work. Rewrite it a couple of times for good measure.
    ChasingSuns likes this.
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I will take this noncommittal approach: If it works it works, if it doesn't it doesn't.

    My current prologue, now reaching 14 pages, has a fight, but technically doesn't start with one.

    In my opinion, a physical fight is just another form of conflict. No matter how you get the conflict opened, do it fast and make it work. That's what matters. This doesn't necessarily mean first draft, my first drafts are all about hammering the events into place, I worry about characterization, theme, motivation, emotion, etc., after getting the first pass down and cleaned up. Bones first approach.
    ChasingSuns likes this.
  11. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

    My WIP opens with an ambush/fight scene. This leads directly to the 'inciting' incident of the novel from which the rest of the story flows, so it's crucial to the plot.

    The first draft version is no where near where it needs to be... yet. My problem (for the revision) will be trying to figure out how to introduce the MC sufficiently before the action kicks in. I more or less blew through this scene the first time, just to get the project underway, and knowing it would be radically changed later anyway. It will probably be a bit of a balancing act to get the blend right, but I'm hopeful I can get it right.

    As long as everything is handled decently, I think such an opening can work.
    ChasingSuns likes this.
  12. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    I've also heard that a fight scene (or any action scene) is a valid way to start a book. I've done it (for a short story), and I'm sure I've seen it done. I believe one of the A Song of Ice and Fire books starts with a fight.

    The fight scene can be a means of showing how your characters deal with loss, or that the antagonist('s army) is a very real and merciless threat, or what motivates the protagonist to kill one enemy while showing mercy to another. If fight scenes are your strong suit, then by all means start with a fight. Your beginning is the hook. Start in the middle of the fight if that's what keeps me turning pages from page 1. I won't keep turning if it takes 3 pages for the armies to watch each otter's approach from the horizon, or if I've got 10 pages of steel clinking and clanking but I don't know who I'm supposed to care about.

    And that would apply to any non-fight scene done badly. 10 pages of flesh whumping and bumping is not a romance scene that will hook me to page 3. I don't know what romance scene would. A fight scene has a better chance with me.
    ChasingSuns likes this.
  13. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

    First of all, I wanna say thanks to everyone for the awesome input! It's really been helping me a lot :) the fight is pretty short, and does demonstrate a different side of the MC. I wanted to establish with the readers that A: the MC is already a well-trained fighter, and B: he has a darker, violent side to him. The fight also comes up later in the story, because it has something to do with a larger piece of the plot. I've shared the chapter with a couple of people, and so far the general consensus is that the fight was a good idea. I definitely am going to be making changes to it when I go back for another draft, but since I'm still in the first draft I'm okay with it. I'll look into the ASOIAF book that starts with a fight. Can anyone else think of a book that starts with a fight/ambush? I would love to see more examples of how people execute a scene like that at the beginning of a story.

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