1. ThinkingTooHard
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    ThinkingTooHard New Member

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    The ignorant protagonist

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by ThinkingTooHard, Jun 7, 2016.

    Thanks for reading!

    I'm developing a sci-fi story with an alternate Earth type setting. The set up of the main character and his life, as well as how this world works, is carrying me beyond the first third of the book that's usually earmarked for this sort of thing.

    However, the supporting cast members are involved in a building crises (in crises from the get-go) that directly affects the main character, but that he has no idea is about to crash down upon him.

    My question is, what does everyone think about a delayed "inciting incident" for the main protagonist if the plot's inciting incident happens fairly early on?

    Is this dramatic irony or bad pacing?
     
  2. A man called Valance
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    A man called Valance Active Member

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    If there's a plausible reason why the main character doesn't know what everyone else seems to know, I don't see a problem. Anyway, welcome to the site ThinkingTooHard.
     
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  3. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    Welcome to the forum.

    I'm trying to do something like this in my WIP. A character learns something important later on that kicks their arc and plot off properly.

    What helps me is that I have two other main characters for the readers to be interested in who's arcs are significant from the first page, so you don't get bored by the lack of arc for the third. These two characters know the truth, and a bunch of secondary characters too. Keeping the truth from the 3rd character is one of the plot points.

    May I ask what point of view are you using? Is it just through the main character's perspective, or are you doing a narrative sort of thing?
     
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  4. ThinkingTooHard
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    ThinkingTooHard New Member

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    Hey Zoup,

    Thanks for the feedback; ive been kind of wrestling with this issue, doing my best to hack away at the main character's extended intro--but, as you've mentioned, as long as the rest of the cast is carrying things forward, it should work out.

    I'm using 3rd person limited, switching between characters as I change chapters. You?
     
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  5. Greenwood
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    Greenwood Active Member

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    I'm doing this myself as well currently. One of my MC's is completely ignorant of the main trouble brewing up until chapter 7(about a third of the book). However, he does have other problems to cope with, which form their own subplot of some kind. I don't think it's a problem, if at least something happens to keep it interesting.
     
  6. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    This sounds very much like a reluctant hero scenario, classic Joseph Campbell stuff. While the world has already shifted out of order, the hero doesn't want to get involved... for whatever good reason you come up with. Usually, he's busy with something else, which can be anything from fighting another battle to working through an emotional issue.

    With the hero trying to accomplish something else and the world-out-of-order stuff repeatedly getting in his way, he finally says, Enough! and gets involved.

    And the point where he finally gets involved may also be because the world-out-of-order stuff strikes close to home for him. Like, if cats in the neighbourhood are disappearing, the hero might not want to get involved, just keep a better eye on the cat, until the cat disappears. Then, it's in with both feet.
     
  7. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    Some people use prologues as a means of alluding to bigger events happening in the story. A kind of pre-reminder that even though the beginning is slow-going, things will pace up later. If you're willing to ignore the anti-prologue crowd, that's one way to go about things.

    If your inciting incident is the type that's outta no-where (no-one in the story could have predicted it, there were no signs of it happening before it happened - a natural disaster or the like), then you want the reader to understand the full implications of the event as it's unfolding. Otherwise, it's a good idea to leave little hints and subtle signs of a build up (the atmosphere of a city becoming more uneasy and unsettling as news of more people going missing, or news of tensions rising between nations a and b, you get the idea) throughout that first part of your story. Something that lets the reader know things are building without throwing them ass-first into it.
     
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  8. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    Holy! I wrote a response but never posted. The draft was just sitting here.

    I have a nice big cast too, so the story moves without the character. The reveal and reaponse kicks off the character's journey, but they are playig catch up as they go. 3rd person limited helps.
     
  9. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can sympathize with the OP's concern. The inciting incident in my WIP happens in the first chapter, yeah. But by a third of the way through, my protags think they've whipped the problem and the antagonist will henceforth let them alone. They don't realize that he's still after them. If he's not openly in their faces it's because he's building up his forces and strengthening his position till time to make his move. That'll be in the last third of the book, and then my protags will be forced to act. I hope-hope-hope that I've left enough clues in the middle part for the reader to know the villain is still there, while making it reasonable that the protags will ignore/fail to grasp the implications of those clues, because they are, as @Sack-a-Doo! said, busy with something else.

    Mine is a real-world setting, and my protags aren't cops, mercenaries, soldiers, Chosen Ones, or long-lost royalty. They're just yuppies. So to my mind, having them do anything proactive to take down the villain would be unthinkable. Their wanting to ignore the situation and get on with their lives makes sense. To me, anyway.

    But yeah. The fashion seems to be that the protag should be aware and proactive from the start. But maybe reluctant and/or ignorant can work?
     
  10. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I didn't mean to imply that a story can roll along through the entire second act without the protagonist being engaged in the story problem. That would result in fully half of your story not being about the story.

    Just making sure the antagonist is still there won't be enough to sustain the reader for such a long time. Imagine you're in a monster movie where everyone knows the monster is out there doing stuff, but the protagonist is off trying to perfect—not his monster ray—but the perfect ski lift. Wouldn't you, as a person in that story world, look around to find the person who was doing something about the monster and go watch him/her instead?

    Even if the ski lift factors big in the third act, the guy who builds it is just the 'science guy,' not the MC.

    And hopefully, if you found that no one was doing anything about that monster, you'd go do something yourself. At least then you'd know something was being done.

    Yes, it makes sense, but...

    If they ignore the problem, they aren't involved in the story. And if they aren't involved in the story, the reader is going to be impatient until they are. And if it goes on too long, they may just stop reading.

    If by 'proactive from the start' you mean 'in from page one,' then no. That's rarely the case.

    Establish that the protagonist (and you want one of your yuppies to stand out as the protagonist, the one everyone else looks to for decision-making, etc.) has a life, sure. But then the inciting incident tells them the world is out of whack and, yes, maybe that protagonist doesn't want to respond to the call for action (which is what the inciting incident is) but by the first turning point (about 1/4 of the way into the story) he has to get involved. Otherwise, he/she is not the MC, he's a by-stander.
     

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