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  1. ChrisGallagher
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    ChrisGallagher Member

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    How late into the novel can you introduce a Protagonist?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ChrisGallagher, Aug 6, 2010.

    I have quite a few things that I want to introduce before letting the my protagonist enter. Just wondering, is there a theoretical limit - in pages - on how far into the novel you can introduce the main character?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    exactly 3.14159 pages
     
  3. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, it's as easy as Pi. ;)
     
  4. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Joking apart, it depends on the wordcount, genre and publisher sometimes. For Avon, the MCs appear right at the beginning. You couldn't get away with writing a romance if your hero and heroine were absent for one or two chapters! And neither could you if it was a 70,000 word YA story like Artemis Fowl.
     
  5. Sang Hee
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    Sang Hee Contributing Member

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    You can get away with it if you won't introduce them in the first chapter but in the second chapter everyone will start wondering what's going on.
    No one says you can't break the conventions, though. You just have to be prepared for the readers being quite confused or angry if it doesn't work out.
     
  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Too much introduction is rarely a good thing. I know that's a vague answer (not specific), but the concern provided only the general problem.

    You can trust the reader to get up to speed pretty quickly. It might be best to decide exactly how much intro/backstory/background/preparation is needed--the minimum and then go from there.

    Good luck!

    Terry
     
  7. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Perfectly put!

    Bear in mind, if you are a known, published author, you might be allowed a little latitude in such things. James Clavell filled the first three chapters of Shogun with technical 'stuff' about latitudes and rutters (ships' logs), etc. before he ever got into the story. I borrowed the book from my sister when it first came out and put it down more times than I care to count. She kept telling me, "Just keep reading. It gets better"! If, however, you are neither known, nor published, you might find it a hard sell to fill up the first few pages with '411' when an agent is going to be looking for 'who' not 'what'. And you know the agent is going to be the toughest sell. (I doubt seriously Shogun would have been published were agent and publishers not already familiar with Clavell's work.)

    There are things to consider when venturing off the beaten path as a relative unknown. Is it really critical to give the information before introducing the protagonist? Are you skilled enough to be able to carry off this ploy? Is it worth the risk? Weigh the options carefully then, if you decide that, yes, it is critical to introduce the information prior to introducing the protagonist; yes, I do have the skill to pull it off; and, yes, it is worth the risk. Then go for it! And good luck.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    all good advice above...

    what's your reason for delaying it?... if you have a good one and it works for the reader, i wouldn't worry about it...
     
  9. ChrisGallagher
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    ChrisGallagher Member

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    events have to lead up to when the protagonist is introduced, so that the reader understands why.

    Thanks for all the advice.
     
  10. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    A protagonist? Whenever you want.

    But if it's the MAIN protagonist, then you should do it toward the beginning of the book.



    Unless of course your MC is the antagonist, then you can even put off introducing the main protagonist for a few chapters.


    Most importantly, do whatever the hell you want. There is no rule about when you have to introduce certain characters. If someone doesn't like the way you place introductions, then let them miss out on a (potentially) great story.


    p.s. If your main goal is to be published for the first time, then you might want to disregard all that and just stick to the traditional introducing your Main Protagonist in chapter one.
     
  11. goeswithgod
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    goeswithgod Member

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    If you're talking about the protagonist as in the main person about whom the story is written, then it's probably best to get him/her in there as quickly as possible. Of course, in some cases, the protagonist doesn't neccesarily have to be the 'hero'. Take Lord of the Rings. Frodo is the main focus of the book yet all he has to do is deliver a ring. The hero of the book is Aragorn and we don't see him until a good bit into the story. Frodo is important in that he is instrumental in bringing about the King's return and he is, by definition, the protagonist, but I think the saga is really about Aragorn.
    Where was I going with that?
    Oh yeah, LOTR is an example of coming to the main story in a sidewaysey way. Is that what you're doing?

    <A note for admins: Yes, I know this isn't a LOTR forum...>
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I think it all depends on what your plot demands.

    For example, in Harry Potter, we don't see Baby Harry until the very end of the first chapter in the first book. The focus was on the Dursleys, then Dumbledore and co. Sure we hear about him, but we don't physically see him yet.

    However, in most cases, it's usually best to introduce the protagonist within the first few pages.
     
  13. QueenVictoria73
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    Writing has no formula. Do whatever you want as long as you love what you are doing, so will your readers. If you want a dry cut rule, though, I would say as soon as possible. Other than a prologue, introduce him or her in chapter one. You need a protagonist for events to revolve around to keep things going in a coherent way. Writing descriptions and events about no one in particular could easily turn into mayhem.

    This is a good point. It just goes to show, anything is possible in writing. Since JRRT is a boss, he was able to not introduce his hero until way later, and I'm sure you could, too if you really wanted to.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    See, I never cared about Aragorn, the least little bit. Big? Check. Powerful? Check. Heroic? Check. Now is there someone _interesting_ to watch? Ooh, hobbits!

    So to me, Frodo is absolutely the protagonist, and Aragorn is just a placeholder hero.

    ChickenFreak

    I think that it depends on why you want to wait. All of the reasons that I can think of, though, look to me like bad reasons.

    A warning: I remember a friend's story, in which he did a great job of introducing the character that I thought was the main character, got him into trouble, and then had him rescued by some big powerful hero.

    Turns out that the character first introduced was just supposed to go away babbling his admiration and gratitude, never to be seen again, while the hero took over as protagonist. But that first character was well-developed, complex, and interesting. The "hero" was just heroic, shiny and texture-free. That put me off the story entirely.

    I guess my point is that if you put off your protagonist for too long, people might have learned that they prefer your story without him.

    ChickenFreak
     
  15. Skaruts
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    Skaruts Member

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    If you are sure that what comes before that will undoubtly entertain the reader and be very relevant for the rest of the story and for the protagonist's "life", introducing the protagonist may not be a priority. But usualy the protagonist is what drives the story, at least from some point onwards.

    Usualy I introduce my protagonists right away, in a progressive way, as I introduce everything else that may be relevant. But, that's just me, I guess.
     
  16. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    If nothing else, you can always hint at his/her existence through other characters, so that the reader will know (subconsciously, even) that a central character has yet to make their entrance.
     
  17. amble
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    amble Member

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    I've been thinking about this as I head into chapter 2. Basically the protagonist is glimpsed for a few seconds at the end of the prologue (which stands apart from the main story). However the book opens on the antagonists search for something.

    Then chapter 2 will be a prophecy about the protagonist and then in chapter 3 the protagonist will be introduced. At least that's how I have it formulated. I might restructure it when completed but to me that sounds fine, as then most of the book will centre on the protagonist and his 'quest' of sorts.

    Thoughts?
     
  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In detective stories, we sometimes see a chapter or two of victims and murderers and so on before the crime is committed and the detective finally appears.

    Also, in Moby Dick, Captain Ahab isn't introduced until a long way into the book.

    There are also stories like Hitchcock's Psycho, in which the person we think is the protagonist dies halfway through and we find out the story isn't really about them at all.

    So, from an artistic standpoint, you can introduce your protagonist or antagonist or anybody else wherever you want, so long as your writing ability is such that you keep your reader's attention. From a commercial standpoint, though, the situation may be different. Your publisher may demand that you introduce the protagonist early; they may fear that not doing so will hurt sales.
     
  19. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless these events leading up to the protagonist's introduction are real hooks of page turning quality, then you run the risk of losing your readers before the protagonist enters the story.

    Personally I would introduce the P in the first couple of pages and if these events are important to the story, then I would use them in back story:)
     

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