Start where the story starts. We hear this all the time and it should be one of the easiest pieces of advice a writer gets.
So how come sometimes it's not?
I've had so many beginnings to my MS Daze and Knights that I've lost count- proof that I've been having a hard time finding where the story starts. For me, the story starts when my MC lands in medieval times. My first few drafts had three chapters of her at home first, which I cut down to two, then one, then cut out altogether in the vein of starting where the story starts and also to slash some word count. Then I had a beta say that she wants to see my MC at home so we can see what she's missing when she's travelled, what she could potentially be giving up. So I wrote a whole new first chapter of her at home. Now I've received the advice that just that one chapter isn't enough- it needs more.
This got me thinking... for me, those chapters at home are really just backstory. Or intro-story. Here's my MC, this is what her life is like, this is what she's like... then boom, it's all taken away. I've been struggling over what to add, what's necessary to the story without just being info or random happenings. For me, if this isn't really where the story starts, what can I put in to make readers care about the character enough to want to take the journey with her?
I haven't found answers yet. I did find a great example of exactly what I'm struggling with though. Last week I read Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, an awesome YA historical that takes place in the 1400s. The story is of a girl who escapes an arranged marriage and joins a convent of women who serve Death- they are assassins. The story starts just as she's about to get married. For me, the real story could start when she gets to the convent, or even when she gets her first assignment. The other stuff we could have learned through splashes of backstory here and there. But would we have cared about her as much? I'm not sure. Robin LaFevers does an excellent job with those first chapters. They are a setup of the story to come, but they're fast-paced and interesting. We understand the MC and the choices she makes later based on those first few chapters.
Starting where the story starts isn't always as cut-and-dry as we want it to be. That's why it's important to take another piece of advice we always hear: Read Read Read! It's the best way to learn.