Since I'm a plotter, I sketch out all the plots in a story before I start writing. In each part of Disciple, that includes: the external action, the emotional arcs of Kate and her two co-MCs, and Kate's mastery of her magical ability. All the stories include these, but which one is the primary plot varies from Part to Part.
|Humming "Drive" by Incubus. Photo courtesy of sxc.hu|
How do I know which plot is the primary driver of the story? Well, because of the overall progress of Disciple, that was easy to pick out in Part IV. But when it's not so easy to tell, the question I ask myself is:
What's the most important thing that happens in the course of the story?
That's your primary plot. I'm biased toward these being changes in a character, personally, but it can be an external goal. Catching a serial killer, for example.
In my scifi novel, Course Corrections (McBride's Eight? I'm waffling) I had to ask that question, think hard, and then revise accordingly. The primary plot was: Maggie McBride becomes a leader.* Therefore, the story began when she decided to do the thing that made her a leader -- to rescue her cousin Neal. I hadn't written that scene in the first draft because I hadn't realized it was the primary out of the handful of plot threads... so I added the scene in revision.
If the plot were: Neal McBride escapes prison, the story probably would start when he was captured, or maybe at his trial and sentencing.
Where does that primary plot start? What is its inciting incident? Figuring that out is another blog post. But for now, whether you're a plotter figuring this out ahead of time or a pantser hacking your manuscript into shape:
The story begins when the primary plot begins.
Everything before that is extraneous, to be brutally honest, and every page you make your readers slog through to get to the story is a risk. A risk that they will put the story down and find something more interesting to do. You can take that risk -- I put about three pages in front of the scene where Maggie makes her choice, and I did it for the purpose of introducing Neal as a sympathetic character who deserves rescuing. (did I succeed?) Or you can jump right into the plot on page one.
How many pages are you willing to read before you know what the plot is? "It depends" -- on what?
*Though having read Ursula LeGuin's recent post, this may be the story, and the plot was how she went about doing that (rescuing her cousin.)
Part 1 is here.