Alison Sinclair: Start with the brick
The Montreal-based SF writer on the importance of pinpointing where your novel truly starts.
I once read that the story should start when the brick goes through the window.* The brick need not be the first event in the plot, but it is the event that starts the story on course towards the denouement: the discovery of the crime, the arrival of the messenger, the first step onto a new planet. A useful brick is starting with the main character taking action or already in a fix, or having them learn/discover something that promptly kicks them into action or lands them in a fix. I admit I often don't recognize the place where a particular story's brick goes through the window until my second draft, or even later. It's usually quite a bit further in than I thought. The set-up is useful rehearsal and discovery of what I need to know, but ultimately non-essential. So out it goes, and I console myself with the thought that Tolstoy supposedly discarded the first four chapters of Anna Karenina when he recognized where the novel really started. (And if he did not, kindly don't disillusion me.) So, start with the brick."
* I would credit the source if I could, but so far my online searches have only turned up a remarkable range of applications of bricks, some of which, who knows, may make it into a story some day.
Alison Sinclair has published the science fiction novels Legacies, Blueheart and Cavalcade, the collaborative SF novel Throne Price, and a fantasy trilogy. Cavalcade was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award in 1999 and her short story "Suspended Lives," about a surgeon working in space, appeared in the Aurora-award winning anthology Space, Inc. After an odyssey through several higher learning institutions, various branches of science, and assorted cities in the western hemisphere, she now lives in Montreal and works in Health Technology Assessment, studying the evidence backing medical therapies.