Aspiring novelists are often bombarded with advice on how to create an effective opening for their novels. One common suggestion is to get the inciting incident on the page as quickly as possible. However, as a seasoned editor and book coach, I’m here to caution against this approach. Rushing into the inciting incident can lead to openings that are hard to decipher and even harder to invest in. But why is this the case? To shed light on this, let’s dissect the opening of a recent novel that captivated my attention: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. In this blog post, we’ll explore the importance of establishing context, introducing protagonist problems, and unveiling desires in your novel’s opening (ps. potential spoilers for the novel)
The Pitfall of a Premature Inciting Incident
In Gideon the Ninth, Muir deftly avoids the pitfall of thrusting readers into the inciting incident right away. Instead, she begins by introducing us to Gideon, a queer necromancer in space. This intriguing character immediately piques our interest. The inciting incident, an invitation from the first house for necromancers of all nine houses to compete for the honor of becoming a lector, is not the starting point. Starting with this event would leave readers in the dark about crucial elements like the nine houses and the practice of necromancy.
Gideon’s Struggle: A Gateway to Engagement
Muir chooses to begin with Gideon attempting to escape the ninth house, a place she despises. This sets the stage with a palpable problem that Gideon grapples with, instantly evoking our empathy. We are drawn into Gideon’s world because we care about her and the difficulties she faces. This initial struggle also serves as a vehicle for providing essential context. Readers learn about Gideon’s predicament, her desires, and her motivations.
Conflict Fuels Connection
Another pivotal element that Muir introduces early on is the animosity between Gideon and Haro Hawk, the scion of the ninth house and her sworn enemy. This enmity creates a compelling conflict that further draws readers in. The ensuing battle between the two characters not only heightens tension but also solidifies our investment in Gideon’s journey. This conflict helps establish Gideon’s primary goal: to break free from the ninth house.
Establishing Context: A Key to Engagement
The opening of Gideon the Ninth teaches us a valuable lesson about the importance of taking the time to set up the basic context of the story. By providing readers with a clear understanding of the world, its rules, and the characters, Muir ensures that we are fully immersed in the narrative. This deliberate approach allows us to navigate the intricacies of the plot with confidence and clarity.
Protagonist Problems and Desires: The Heart of the Matter
In crafting your novel’s opening, don’t underestimate the power of protagonist problems and desires. These elements serve as the beating heart of your story. By showcasing the challenges your main character faces and what they long for, you create a strong emotional connection with your readers. This connection is what compels them to invest in the narrative and root for the protagonist’s success.
As you embark on your journey to craft a powerful opening for your novel, remember the lessons from Gideon the Ninth. Resist the urge to rush into the inciting incident. Instead, take the time to establish the basic context, reveal protagonist problems, and unveil their desires. This deliberate approach will lay a solid foundation for a captivating and engaging narrative that will leave readers eagerly turning the pages.
Here’s to better stories for a better world.
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