Instead of jumping into action without context or using a Sound of Music style opening, a better idea is to show the main character doing something (action rather than simply sitting around thinking) that will bring him/her/hir to the inciting incident rather quickly.
The inciting incident is what causes the story to happen. In Frank Herbert’s Dune, the inciting incident is when the Emperor orders the Duke to take over management of the planet commonly known as Dune. You never see that scene. That happens before the opening chapter, a good example of in medias res. As the story opens, you see the Duke’s household in the midst of preparations to leave their home planet for Dune. From word one, the story is in forward motion. Another good technique is to ease the reader into the setting and characters by starting a short time before the inciting incident occurs. Margaret Mitchell’s approach for Gone With the Wind gave the reader a chapter or two of normal life on the plantation, but still with forward momentum leading to the two inciting incidents-- Ashley announcing his engagement to his cousin Melanie (effectively dumping Scarlett), and news reaching the party that the war has been declared.
In my novel The Night Creature, I open the story at a party. The female and male lead characters see each other across the room. She wants to hook up with him and he wants her, but they remain on opposite ends of the room no matter where they move in the crowd. They’re chasing and evading each other simultaneously. This foreshadows the plot. It’s also in medias res because you find out later that he’s been pursuing her for a while and she’s been purposefully evasive. By the end of the evening, she lets him catch her. During sex, he bites her. This is the inciting incident. The bite transfers their roles. Now she pursues him and he runs away. As they find themselves trapped in a game without end, they struggle with all-consuming desire, obsession, and madness. I did mention that this story is gothic horror, didn’t I?
The opening of a novel doesn’t just introduce the character and their world. It should also give the reader a taste of what’s at stake for the main character. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett wants Ashley, to flirt and be admired, and to get her way. She wants life to continue as it has up until now for her, only better. In Dune, the Duke Atreides, his consort Jessica, and heir Paul want to survive the political intrigues of the Emperor and eventually get off Dune with their fortune, power, and lives intact. My characters want the game to end. Yeah. Not going to happen. But that’s not the point. Show what your character wants, briefly. Then yank it from their grasp with the inciting incident. That’s where your story starts. Every book is different, so you could get to the inciting incident within a thousand words or it could take you a couple chapters, but get to it as soon as possible.
For an erotic novel, you might go with a sexual the inciting incident. Desire, lust, attraction, a gang bang, whatever is right for your story should be the catalyst to get the story moving. Sometimes the inciting incident is a situation that makes sexual discovery, seduction, submission, etc. possible. However, be wary of literary tropes. This is an excellent article describing them: http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10360 I review erotica and have judged both erotica and erotic romance for contests, and I’ve seen a few tropes so many times that, as this article suggests, they make me want to hurl a book across the room. It’s a good thing I like my Kindle too much to fling it. So please, do not make the inciting incident be a bad break up. Don’t have your heroine take a bubble bath as she thinks (what did I say about sitting around thinking?) about making a radical change in her life. Don’t have her buy a fabulous house out in the middle of nowhere with only a mysterious Byronic hero alpha male for a neighbor. Just. Don’t. For me. Please.
How do you decide where to start? Do you go with your first vision? Is starting the novel the hardest part for you?
Next time, I’ll talk about why maybe I should learn to outline (but it won’t happen) and what to do when you feel like you’re up to your knees in muck that’s sucking you down into a writerly funk and you don’t think you can slog through it to the next chapter.