1. Holo
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    Holo Senior Member

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    The protagonist's beginning circumstance

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Holo, May 6, 2012.

    How do set up your protagonist in the beginning of the story? Usually they are not already directly involved with the main plot and experience some sort of catalyst that pushes them into the action. But how do you figure out where they are in the beginning of the story?

    For example, my protagonist is a werewolf. Her mother was bitten by a werewolf in the early stages of her pregnancy and instead of contracting lycanthropy, it went to the protagonist while in the fetal stage, making her a natural born werewolf (in my story werewolves are turned, not born). She had an older sister as well. All said and done without going to much into the political setting and the like (since werewolves are out to the public and there are underground movements who are anti-werewolf but as a whole they are slowly being integrated into society) some bigoted werewolf hunters kill the protagonist's family looking for her and obviously fail to kill the protagonist.

    When the story starts, the protagonist is 19 years old Originally, I was going to have her be part of a circus, but I realized it had no impact on the plot or her development as a character. My problem is I know where she ends up by the end of the first book and what she will be doing from that point onward. I am having trouble with figuring out what she is doing in the beginning of the story and how she gets involved with the other main cast of characters.

    I know since you don't know much about my plot, you can't really say "well she would be doing this" but I want to know how to you writers, specifically contemporary fantasy writers, set your protagonist up in the beginning before the plot kicks off.
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I either start in media res, meaning right in the middle of things, or pretty close to it. I don't do much in the way of establishing the "ordinary world" and then having the character move into the main conflict from there. I like to being at or near some event after which there is no chance for the character to go back to the way things were "before."
     
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  3. KRHolbrook
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    KRHolbrook Member

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    I first had to think of my story, and then mold my protagonist to fit into it. She becomes the vessel for the god of chaos, so I had to make her life a chaotic one to fit that role.

    At the start of my story, everything begins with a dare to go to a haunted house.

    Try and start it in some kind of action scene--you said that werewolf hunters killed her family, so have her stalking a few hunters. Or switch it around and have her hiding from some of them. It all depends on the character, what their personality is like. Bold or cautious.
     
  4. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    If you are doing an origin story where the character is introduced to the hidden world, then the first bit should really be about establishing the character and her place in the ordinary world that will soon be shattered. Basically who is this person and why do I care about him/her enough to invest the time to read 300 pages?

    The first chapter of the next super-awesome vampire series that I'm creating shows the main character at the mall trying NOT to fixate on her troubles (workaholic mom, distant father, no one understands her, lather rinse repeat...). She's not trapped in existential angst or hiding. She's just trying to be an ordinary teenager hanging out with her friends. That means seeing a movie with friends and avoiding the childhood sweetheart who now thinks he gets first dibs at getting into her pants. She stops to call her mom, who worries about her when she is out too late like any good mother does without trying to smother a child.

    Then vampires attack and the sun explodes...Well not really but you get the idea.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Following the Hero's Journey isn't bad, in my view, but I don't think you have to start that way in order to get the reader to identify. I've read plenty of books that start right in the middle of the action, or very close to it, where you get to know the characters as they proceed through that action instead of through some preliminary "ordinary" sequence of the events that the author has set out for that purpose.
     
  6. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    In my case, I started with an everyday event gone wrong. I think you could call the catalyst an "abnormality", because, if the catalyst doesn't happen, the protagonist will go on to live their life as they had already been.
     
  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, you said you know what she does at the end of this book, and what she'll be doing after that. Sounds to me that what you see as an "end" should your beginning, and whatever she is doing next, your main body of the book.
    Don't try to write a book before a book. Write the book you have, not a prequel.
     
  8. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    This is great advice.

    I wouldn't worry too much about if you start your story in the perfect place. More than likely you will either have to go back and add a few scenes to the begining or hack a bit off the front (more likely the case). If you assume that you'll have to fix the beginning it makes it easier to grab the story and just start and it also makes it easier to cut the head off later.
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Start at the start of the conflict in your book.

    I started mine when my HPs went in search of my MC (which is also when my AC found my MC).
    Hunger Games started when the reaping began.
    Harry Pottter started when he got called to Hogwarts.

    In short, start at the start of your story.

    Btw, as someone else rightly said, if you only know where your MC goes at the end of the book, then whatever you're working on now is not the book. Don't write the prequel - write the book.
     
  10. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    Well, there are two main ways. You could have them decide to do something, or you could have something happen to them. There's a bias to have villainous characters start by deciding to do something and heroic characters start by reacting to something happening, but that's certainly not the only way it has to go. You could flip it, or you could have both actively chose to do something and end up colliding with each other. (For example, both decide to enter the same competition.)

    If you start with something happening to your character, just write the thing happening. If you start with them doing something, you can either jump right into them doing it and explain bit by bit, or you can start with their decision to do it and explain their reasoning. (For example: 'One day, while waiting in line for a loaf of bread, Piltar came to a sudden realization. The world would be better off if he killed the emperor.' Then explain why.)
     
  11. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Figure out what is the inciting incident in the story and start there. What sets your character in motion towards whatever it is that he/she wants to accomplish/the goal of the story? I do like steerpike said and start in the middle of the action. No warming up before the story gets started and definitely no chapter-long backstory.
     
  12. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    My protagonist isn't even born at the beginning of my story. I've started with my antagonist that really isn't an antagonist, just sorely misled.
     
  13. ArnaudB
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    ArnaudB Member

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    I'd also advise to bring the conflict as soon as possible. If you really need to introduce setting, then show the breaking point before making a flashback. (Not WEEKS ago if possible, a flashback of the morning day is often better).
    Otherwise just start straight into the action and roll with it.

    Character will be presented when you need them in the story, not because you want to present them as people around your MC
     
  14. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Technically, the lead character is "my employee." And while he brings a known resume' to the 'job,' I'm his supervisor, and I set the job description and the work environment.

    I do believe in a brief "orientation." About one pragraph should do that. After that, his butt belongs to the company store, as far as I'm concerned. His one and only function is to advance the plot, and I intend to allow a lot of workplace accidents.

    What's he gonna do? Form a union? Turn in his resignation?

    This is a fancy way of saying that as a writer you can do anything you please. My lead has a nagging shoulder injury from a backstory event. He's in pain for the entire story. I don't care.
     
  15. ArnaudB
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    ArnaudB Member

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    Fixed :)
     
  16. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Actually--without knowing the backstory--it's not fixed.

    Things are not as they seem, that's the story. ;)
     

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