1. beanbengo
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    beanbengo Member

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    How long to wait before introducing conflict?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by beanbengo, Feb 24, 2012.

    I am currently at the start of a story.

    Pretty much my main 16 year old character's family is going to be murdered which is going to send him on a supernatural revenge/redemption/save the world mission.

    I need to have enough writing at the start to introduce what he is like as a person and to introduce the family and he he feels about them so that the reader is sad when they die, and so that the reader can see how he adapts to his new situation.

    But I don't want to leave it so long that the reader gets bored... So I was just wondering what your opinions are of this. Would 5 chapters of around 1300 words each be too much? (at home, looking after his younger siblings, at school with a girl he likes, talking with the step father, returning home from another day at school with his house burnt to the ground)

    Thank you :)
     
  2. Mordred
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    Mordred Member

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    When watching a movie, how long do you want to wait until the meat of the story fills the theater? I like to make comparisons in order to better understand what I am trying to accomplish when writing a story.

    Instant Action: Star Wars (Episode IV to those not old enough to remember when it first came out) - BOOM! Instant action as the Rebel Blockade Runner is attempting to outrun the Imperial Star Destroyer over the planet of Tatooine.

    Introducing the Antagonist First: Tombstone - Opening to a group of riders (the antagonists) on horseback pounding their way across a desert landscape to a small Mexican village where they slaughter members of the Mexican Police coming out of a wedding ceremony.

    Developing the Background/Introductions: Back to the Future - Introducing Marty McFly, his family, his situation and then Doc Brown then a ride into the past.

    Personally, as a reader, I want some action within the first three chapters. When I think of the length of a chapter I figure it will be around 3000 words, so your 1300 word chapters would put it in the first five.

    Just a thought...

    ~Mordred
     
  3. UrbanBanshee
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    UrbanBanshee Member

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    There has to be some sort of conflict or drive in the beginning even if it isn't your main conflict. Killing off a character in the first page might be to soon but five chapters might be a bit much to wait for something to happen. If there is a compelling minor conflict that shows us how much the MC cares about his family I'm willing to read a bit more. Point is no matter what it is you can't afford to be boring, especially in the beginning.
     
  4. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whether a reader gets bored depends on how well you write it. Some writers can keep a reader interested for three quarters of the book before the major event happens. Most can't. Whatever, you need something to keep the reader reading, so you need some sort of tension (or stunningly good language) from early on. Think of the movie Psycho: at the beginning most viewers would have thought it was a heist movie, which made the shower scene more of a shock. But it had to be a good heist movie to keep the viewer's interest.
     
  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I most like the books that start in the middle of a conflict scene. If you want to show them in their ordinary lives, you can still generate all kinds of conflicts that will make the reader care a lot more than if you just write about nice things. 5 chapters is way to long to wait for the main motivating incident to occur.
     
  6. beanbengo
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    beanbengo Member

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    How about 3 chapters? I don't think I could bring it to two?
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Skip those five chapters entirely. Start where the story starts, not earlier. When you're done, you can go back and see if you need those chapters, and you'll probably find that you don't. We need to know how your protagonist feels about his family, and that's enough. We don't need a chapter introducing his seven-year-old sister (gosh, isn't she cute?) only to see her murdered. We don't need to see a wonderful family set up at the beginning just to watch them die. It's a cliche.

    It's okay to open your story in chapter one with your main character already having a burning desire for revenge in his heart. We'll believe him when he explains why.
     
  8. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    What UrbanBanshee said. Give them A conflict right away, or several, buying you time to gradually build up to THE conflict.

    eg. In my current novel: In the first paragraph the main character is interrupted while attempting suicide. Still in the first chapter, the ship he is on sinks, he dies, has a NDE, is revived, and we meet just one of the bad guys, who slaughters the staff at the diner across from the main character's apartment. The central conflict of the story isn't fully revealed until the third chapter. But there are plenty of mini-conflicts before that while I introduce the characters, the setting and the plot.
     
  9. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Haha, TD, that sounds awesome :D
     
  10. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's the plan Jazzy. I strive to keep things interesting and exciting! :D
     
  11. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't wait.

    I personally dislike the "introduction of a normal life" at the start of books/films. In certain genres it works well -- especially in YA, where following the typical equilibrium → disequilibrium → new equilibrium format is necessary in creating the intended impression -- but in many in just bores me. If you have to have some sort of introduction keep in short and to the point. Can I be honest? If a protagonist's family dying is the beginning of the conflict in a story then I'm not going to be upset when they die no matter how much preparation a writer does beforehand. Nothing will have happened to make me care for them yet. If I'm going to be sad when a character's family dies then it's going to be after at least 40k* worth of intense plot, involving those characters, that helped me to bond with them.

    *doesn't apply to short stories, of course. But that's a different craft.



    One of my favourite storytellers (note: I didn't call him a writer. His writing isn't great), Ryu Murakami, does this in his novel Audition. Unfortunately, I think this led to it being his least interesting book. It was a short book with an interesting blurb and I believe those are the only reasons why I kept with it so long. The last quarter of the novel was incredible - but getting there was a test of patience and I don't believe the wait was entirely worth it.
     
  12. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some writers make it through a whole book without a character being murdered.
     
  13. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    No offense but that sounds pretty rushed to me. How long are your chapters? Mine are generally 8-20 pages in length and I'd struggle to fit all that in one. I'd probably have to write that in three chapters. So a suicide attempt would be chapter one, sinking ship and death would be chapter two. Chapter three would start with the near death experience and revival and meeting the bad guy. I'd be interested to hear how you fit so much in.

    @OP, it's not necessary to introduce the main conflict straight away but you should at the very least sow the seeds of this conflict. My current WIP takes five chapters (well 4 and a prologue.) to get to the inciting event of the main conflict, but the previous ones set it up and (I hope.) do so in an interesting manner. That's the key.
     
  14. Felipe
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    Felipe Active Member

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    Immediately, all of my work begins with a conflict in the very beginning.

    Vengeance, book one opening chapter....

    Andreas looked at him for a few moments then said “We have lost three calves to a jaguar over the past few weeks. He hunts every three nights and has marked our pasture as his feeding ground. Tonight he will feed again, how old are you now eighteen?”

    “Yes Uncle, almost nineteen.” he replied.

    “I was seventeen when I killed my first jaguar.” Andreas said as his mind went back to that time.

    “How did you kill it? Felipe asked.

    “I used a bow and a lance, they do charge you when the arrow strikes, they do not run away. I am getting a little old for this type of thing, are you up for this task? We can use a musket if you wish”
     
  15. Daniel_Allan
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    If revenge is the game, let the pre-murder times ROLE!

    So long as you keep things relevent, the reader won't be bored. Hook them in with politics of the family (and how the murderer ties in). If you base the relationships on real ones in your life, the reader will view the family more realistically. Don't try too hard to make them likeable (even the 16 year old). If you know the people you write, the reader will feel the loss.

    I read a book (an unpublished one which was one of the best books I've read) and it started out with a wild west brawl, only, gunpowder was rare so the 'gunslingers' are actually more like samurai. The story carried on and there was no action until 200 pages in. Holy shit, dude. That was the single most classy action sequence I'd ever read. In fact, if it was directed the way it was written, it would be the best sequence anyone would have SEEN.
    The action picked up after that, but the point is:

    Because the drama was great, and the developing relationships (and hint of plot), by the time I got to the action I felt like I was amongst real people in a world of real physics. If the main hero threw a kick, it felt realistic just like a street fight (you would freak out that he threw a kick like in the movies, except the author even wrote the sloppy, realistic stumbles of true combat).

    Write the family for as long as it takes to reveal the antagonists motivation (if he is an antagonist at all). You could write in behaviours or objects which link the character back to the family after they're dead. Fill the opening with lighthearted stories about that locket the main character keeps on him later for motivation.

    Just an idea. Truth is you just gotta do it and work it out from there with advice and revision.

    Good luck and I hope to read your book.
     
  16. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first chapter is unusually long for me. The suicide attempt begins in media res with the main character about to jump off the ship. He's interrupted, the ship begins to sink on page two. By page 4 he's in the drink. Page 5 is the NDE. 6 and 7 are the revival and trip home, which are majorly abridged. Pages 8-12 are the diner scene. Very fast, no explanations, no background, everything just happens. So far its about 3000 words. It'll probably be closer to 4000 by the time I flesh it out. My chapters run 3000 words on average. I don't let my reader rest until I absolutely have to. If I decide to do more stage setting in the beginning I will split it into two smaller chapters. My stories move lightning fast. It's my style.
     
  17. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    I prefer fleshing things out with descriptions and background a bit more. I write fantasy after all. I still try to be faster paced than usual fantasy, so each chapter has a concise event that happens rather than having to say "these three chapters spent traveling, these five spent holding court." Also I've got several POV's which I switch every chapter which is actually very helpful for keeping up the pace. As I've got on average 10 chapters for each POV (give or take a few.) their arc has to be finished in 10 chapters rather than 50.
     
  18. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes for multiple POV's and Fantasy that makes good sense.

    My novel is Paranormal Suspense. I deliberately don't want the reader to know why he was attempting suicide, why the ship sank, or who the killer in the diner is. All these things are revealed later in the story. The NDE and revival are skimmed over because they are revisited in exhaustive detail later, when the primary conflict of the story is presented (though not fully explained until the beginning of Act 2). With Suspense, you don't want the reader knowing anything until they absolutely have to. And my story sticks to only 2 POV's until very late in the book. So I could present each POV as a single chapter, but the Diner scene is so short, I currently have it at the end of the first chapter.
     
  19. jwatson
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    I don't think you should worry too much about when to introduce the main conflict of the story. There should always be motivation for readers to read what you are writing. From the first page to say, the tenth, I doubt you will be unfolding the main plot right then and there. The beginning of you novel should address other things, like what your character is like, where the story takes place etc. As you write and develop the plot, you will undoubtedly begin to complicate and add sub plots, which will help keep your readers motivated. As of now, my advice is that you should try and motivate your readers through the simple every day actions of your character as you introduce him or her to the readers. Hope I helped, my 2 cents.
     
  20. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    5 chapters to warm up sounds too long to me too. If you don't want to risk boring your reader, and neither start with the major conflict, start with your character having an argue (preferably over something silly) right before they get killed and you won't need to explain or making us understand how horrible that will be to the character. i think everyone who reads can put themselves into his clothes when something like that happens and understand that he not only will be devastated from grief but also from feelings of guilt and remorse. To me that would work. especially since your character is so young.
     
  21. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey, that's pretty good. I like that! Also yes, 5 chapters is too long for a warmup.
     
  22. Show
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    It doesn't matter when you do it as long as you keep something interesting going on before that. I hate it when books starts right in the middle of a conflict scene. I feel like I've missed something and explaining it retrospectively comes off as lazy. Start where the story starts, which is almost always before the main conflict heats up. Just make it interesting. Maybe foreshadow the deaths early. Do something to hook readers until you're ready to pull the trigger. (Or whatever method most suits you. :p )
     
  23. Cogito
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    The first sentence of the book is not too early. You don't have to start that early, but the sooner you can show a character dealing with a challenge, the better. It's a great way for the reader to start to know the character.
     
  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm doubtful about this, whether it's one chapter or five. Introducing a bunch of people _just_ to kill them is likely to leave the reader not sad for your main character, but angry at you as the author. Why lead them to invest in characters that are just going to die? Are those characters good for anything more than, "He had a nice family. They're dead. He's mad now."?

    Do the characters, their specific nature and personality and history and relationship with the MC, deeply affect the subsequent plot? Does the reader get a moment where he can say, for example, "Oh, _that's_ why his little sister's favorite song was important!" or, "Oh, he's following the pattern of his father's failures," or, "Wow, so the vice principal was in on it!" or any other thing that draws from the details of his pre-mission life?

    Five chapters, or even five pages, possibly even five paragraphs, with no function other than demonstrating that he used to have a normal life, is too many. Those pages or chapters need to earn their keep for far, far more than just setting up the subsequent plot.

    ChickenFreak
     
  25. Whizp
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    Whizp Senior Member

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    You can start with a conflict if you like and then do a back story - depends who your MC is
     

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