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In the beginning..... There was Chapter 15

Rob P

As I edit my tome into something more realistic, I have an increasing feeling, nay unrelenting desire not to start where I thought I should.

I have heard mentioned that stories should cut to the chase as soon as possible and bring the first significant event up close and personal in the first or second chapter. I'm not saying there aren't important events in Chapters One thru Fourteen; there are but the money event is in Chapter 15.

That said, making such a discovery is one thing, acting upon it another. Being ruthless is one way to go but trying to integrate much of my characters' stories created in those fourteen chapters feels daunting.

Advice. How should I approach it? What do I try to retain and what do I forget?
You have a lot of options, that are different degrees of the same principles. Such as:

  • Start with a prologue of the key part of Chapter 15, and say "As he charged, he thought back to how he'd gotten here..." That's considered a bit forced, but not impossible.
  • Start with a future-dream of 15, so characters spend 1-14 trying to work toward it and figure out what it means. Or maybe not a dream but a miniature version of 15's event, intense but limited, with a clear statement that "in time you'll have to fight this out on a real scale!"
  • Start with 15, followed by 1-14's most essential facts distributed between your current Chapters 16+, in the form of flashbacks or restructured scenes. It might be nice to meet the hero's father before trying to fight the dragon, but why couldn't he stumble down from the mountain into a paternal "I told you so" instead?
  • Start with maybe 1, 9, and 15, however's the best way to condense the buildup arc and max out its threats, um promises, that something like 15 is coming soon. Take most of 1-14 and streamline it to be fitted in afterward, as above.
  • Throw out 1-14, and consider 15 the start of the story. Be sure you explain what you needed from 1-14 in the following chapters, but consider using 1-14 in a prequel.

It all depends what kind of emphasis you want on Event 15 and the things leading up to it. (And how much work you want to do to rebuild 14 chapters and the things they'll fit into; there's something to be said for the simpler options that keep that careful buildup and let you finish the story sooner. No book is perfect, but it's nice to just get it done and apply its lessons to the next one.)


Is the event from Chapter 15 the start of the Main Plot? Meaning: When the book is done, does the climax and final scenes resolve the question or problem that this event poses? If so, yes - start with that event.

That's the traditional answer.

My actual answer is - do those first 14 chapters work? Are they interesting? Are they fun? Do your readers have a plot to follow? Maybe not the main plot, but at least something so that they don't just think the book is wandering around for now reason? Fourteen chapters sounds like a lot of writing - it can't all just be character fluffing, can it?

Obviously, these are hard questions to answer yourself. I'd find a friend and beg them to offer you an objective opinion.

Rob P

There is a fair amount of important stuff in the first fourteen chapters. Elements of CH15 are mentioned in the very first chapter and I would say there is a gradual build-up to this event. It could be considered the first climax. It is also the point in which the story truly jumps forward, opening up divergent storylines.

The way the story progresses makes sense. There is still some fluff to be torn away in these chapters and once the first full edit is completed, I will seek input towards the questions the editing has raised.

I wonder if this editing phase of my work cast doubts about the story's stucture in my mind, playing tricks on me. Editing feels at times alien to the act of writing. I did the distance bit of leaving the story alone for a few weeks when first completed, then a full read through before starting the actual edits. The read through flowed quite well. The act of editing by contrast feels disjointed and maybe only once done and a full read through once again will answer those questions.


Kill your darlings.

If you have a feeling that your story should begin in chapter 15, you're probably right. It's not uncommon to cut large portions off the front to get to the real starting point.

My advice, try it starting from 15. Keep the cuts in case you change your mind.


You essentially have two paths you can take:

1) Start at chapter 15 and work the important thingsin later. If those first 14 chapters are essentially useless (few important facts aside) then you will definitely need to cut to the good bits because no one will read far enough into your story to get there otherwise.

2) Revise chapter 1-14 so they aren't so boring. If you're reluctant to do this because it messes with the plot you've set up then, and not to be rude, get over it. Too often people fall in love with their first draft and can't bring themselves to fix large problems they have because the work required to fix it all appears too daunting. I ran into a similar issue some weeks back with the first two parts of my novel (which totaled about 150k words, mind you) when I realized the plot and sequence of events for those parts just sucked. Any editing I had done was simply me either trying to smooth the edges or put an extra fine finish on what was still, at the end of the day, terrible.

I decided to, essentially, toss out those first two parts and start over to try and make it better than it was. I have no doubts that even this "fix" won't solve all my problems but hopefully it will get me a little closer. It's also going to take a ton of work but I want my story to be as good as I can make it.

The point of my mini-ramble there was that if you have 14 chapters that are useless, your plot might have more serious issues than just where it starts. Either you need to be very critical of your plot, trying to weed out holes and and "a wizard did it" sort of cheats and self-assess or find someone who can give you a harsh but constructive rundown of everything to help you out. Until it's published, it's all malleable.
For completeness's sake, I'll suggest one more possibility--make a story of chapters 1-14, and have 15 begin the sequel. (This is how Orson Scott Card turned the "boring prologue" to Speaker for the Dead into the novelette Ender's Game, later expanded into a novel that's now widely considered to be his best book.)


I've found that when I start writing a story, from the get-go, I'm just warming up my engine. Depending on how tired or out of it I am, I'll find that the better starting point can be several paragraphs or even pages from the first thing I wrote. My advice is to go back to your first or even second chapter. If you can't stay hooked with your own beginning then you know it's not good. Skim over the words of the first two chapters until you find a sentence that hooks you. The one that jumps out. Then read from there. If you can follow the story from that point then you have your beginning.


Another thing to consider, which depends on your story, is that you can intersperse other, more interesting happenings to keep the reader hooked through these chapters while you simultaneously have time to let them get to know and love your character(s). Let the reader see some seriously evil stuff (maybe even going back as far as creating a chapter 0) that they know the main character is going to encounter as this character is oblivious to the surmounting and insuperable evil. Or something like that.

Or you could just keep these chapters in. Finish your story (don't even think about 1-14 until you're done) and if you still feel that way, cut them out. If you can cut them out without really effecting the plot, then they aren't very necessary.

Don't be afraid to cut stuff out, but don't destroy it altogether.