The phrase “In late, out early” is one that you’ve probably heard more times than you can count if you’ve ever taken a class on or listened to a podcast about writing.
And you’d try it yourself, really, you would, but you’re scared. I know I’m too scared to take that advice as far as I need to often. Yes, I’ve chopped off a first chapter or two, moving them to my scrap text files in case I need something from them later, but I’m always worried that I’ll take off too much, and my readers won’t be with me, when usually I’m too timid. Yes, you can come in to a story too late, but I’d wager that what most people would think was way too late in their own writing is just about the right place to start for actual readers. Because you need to trust your readers.
They’re not dumb.
I just started reading Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao, and his first chapter is daring in its execution of coming in late. If I wrote that book, I don’t know that I would have been able to start so late because I’d be afraid that my readers wouldn’t get what was going on at all, but as a reader, it works for me 100% just getting thrown into the story. Of course, part of trusting your readers is letting them self-select. Your story will never be all things to all people. If you’re writing space opera, no matter where you start, you’re unlikely to hook a reader who just isn’t into space opera (though you’re substantially more likely to hook them if you go in late than if you start with a huge infodump).
So. Be brave. Start your story where things start happening and not a moment before. And if you’re interested in seeing a great example of “in late, out early,” you can check out the first chapter of The Lives of Tao here (Amazon).