Recognize this scenario? You’ve written several chapters in your WIP when you come to the realization that the chapter you are currently working on is where your novel actually begins. Don’t sweat it. This happens all the time. I know what you’re thinking, but you haven’t wasted valuable time. Think of those first chapters as an exercise in getting to know your characters. You, as the author, are now firmly grounded in your setting. Sometimes, when I’m struggling at the beginning, I free-flow write about my characters and the setting to get a better feel for both. Whatever you do, don’t scratch those previous chapters. You can use bits and pieces of that material as backstory as your plot unfolds.
So how do you know the best place to start your novel? Never at the beginning of time. I know that may sound strange to you, but hear me out. Say you have a female character who is struggling to move on after her recent divorce. You don’t want your reader bogged down in the messy details when your story is not really about the divorce. Begin your novel at the inciting incident. Plunk your character down into a situation that will excite your reader and reveal your character’s internal conflict. You can fill in important backstory as you go. I stress important here. You will not use all the material in those previous chapters. Only the stuff that is paramount to your story. You want to drive your plot forward, not backward.
Many authors have light-bulb moments when they struggle through a few chapters only to discover they were approaching the beginning from the wrong angle. Any writing you do on your WIP, whether you end up using it or not, is key to the development and will add another layer of depth.