Before you start writing, you'll need to know your world inside and out. Even if you're basing your setting on the place you live you need to know it and know it well. And you need to know your characters better than you know yourself. Those things are important for writing a salable book, but how do you know where to begin telling your story once you've planned it out?
You can start with a bang, right in the middle of intense action, but then the rest of the story might fall flat and loose suspension (see Valerie's post). Personally I don't like to read a book or watch a movie where something awesome happens right away, and then I have to read/watch the events that lead up to it. It can be done well, but it's not for me. Like Valerie mentioned, SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson does this well, but the big bad thing that happened to the MC didn't happen at the start of the book. It happened in the past and we read about the after.
You can start with pages of back story, but if the first page doesn't grab your teen audience, chances are they won't read much farther. If you're looking for an agent, Jim McCarthy of Dystel Goderich Literary Agency once said that you have about 6.2 seconds to impress him and then he moves on. With the very first novel length work I wrote I ended up cutting about twenty pages from the beginning. It wasn't necessarily back story but it was too much description and too little action. My lovely Sisters clued me in on that. :-)
GOING BOVINE is an example of a good book that starts a little slow. Cameron tells us the best day of his life was when he almost died at Disneyland. Attention grabber! But then we read all about how that happened and then we move into the story where not much is going on right away. The voice and the characters are what moves that story in the beginning. If we didn't know Cameron the way we do, when the change comes in to his life we might not feel sympathetic enough to really care.
So how do you decide where to start your story?
Each story is different. Some of them need to start with more action, some with less. I think the main thing is that you start with a change. If your character is happy with her life, something needs to happen right away to change that and throw her off-kilter. Weave back story in later and only if it's important. If you have anything to add, this newbie would love to know!
I've got to get back on my revisions, so I will leave you with John Dufresne's 10 commandments for writers:
- Sit your ass in the chair.
- Thou shalt not bore the reader.
- Remember to keep holy your writing time.
- Honor the lives of your characters.
- Thou shalt not be obscure.
- Thou shalt show and not tell.
- Thou shalt steal.
- Thou shalt rewrite and rewrite again. And again.
- Thou shalt confront the human condition.
- Be sure that every death in a story means something.