When NOT to Start the Book With Conflict

Who Brings A Knife To A Gun Fight?
Who Brings A Knife To A Gun Fight? (Photo credit: Cayusa)

Actually, I can think of some downsides to opening a first chapter with conflict. The reader won’t care about the character unless the type of conflict is chosen carefully because the reader won’t know the character enough to really care. To combat this, I’d use the conflict to say something about the character. But what about the initial hook? Use suspense, tension, reader curiosity, mystery, just long enough to set up character before diving into the conflict.

Some types of conflict are rarely effective as an opening hook because most books (except sequels) start with the reader knowing nothing about the characters, issues, or world. And the opening hook makes promises to the reader about what kind of book they are about to read. So avoid starting in the middle of a conflict that is…

  • Character-dependent.

  • setting-dependent

  • back-story-dependent

  • different type of action than typical

  • different mood than typical

  • no connection to main issues

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2 thoughts on “When NOT to Start the Book With Conflict

  1. This is really good advice. What do you mean by character-dependent though? I understand all the others, but I know one editor I interned for told me the first chapter really needs to center around the character so readers have a reason to care since stories function because of characters.

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    1. By “character-dependent” I mean if the opening conflict requires an in-depth knowledge of the character that the reader hasn’t had the time to learn yet. For instance, a character who will lie to avoid conflict or one with a deep phobia. You may not want to open a book with the character acting irrationally. Well, you could. Maybe it would grab reader interest, or maybe the reader would be confused but not invested (and then she’d put the book down). Absolutely I think the conflict should deepen understanding of the character. It’s just that the character’s actions probably need to make sense to the reader and in the first few paragraphs and the reader doesn’t know all that much yet (except in sequels). Either that or you need to provide that explanation really fast.

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