1. Elena Schmetterling
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    Elena Schmetterling Member

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    Style When should the protagonist be introduced?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Elena Schmetterling, Jul 9, 2015.

    Hi,

    I've got a basic plot outline for my story, however in reading I've noted that the protagonist should be introduced in the first chapter so the readers immediately know who they're rooting for. However, in order for my story to go as planned, the antagonist needs to be introduced first, as his first actions set up the book. This "introduction" is too long to be a prologue, meaning it'd have to go in the first chapter, which would inevitably be quite a long one. Is it a crime to leave the introduction of the protagonist until later? Or can I find a way around this?
     
  2. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's perfectly acceptable to have a first chapter without the protagonist. It's not the same media type, but this type of beginning is well established in TV shows where you might have a 2-3 minute teaser where the bad guy does something bad.
     
  3. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I think your average reader can be trusted to know who to root for, even if they're not able to imprint on'em like a baby duck. Or baby velociraptor, whichever. Worth noting though that a prologue can be average chapter length, if you'd prefer to sort of distance the antag's bit from the rest - there's nothing wrong with that as long as it's not all in italics or whatever. I actually think that having it as a prologue makes more sense, since it's presumably tonally different or from a different perspective (or a different focal point while still in 3p), so you want it to be slightly set aside. It's up to your discretion, though. Either way should be fine.
     
  4. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Preferably before the end of the book!

    Sorry - someone had to say it! But no, I don't have a problem with the protagonist not being in the first chapter or two. Especially if the first chapter is a prologue, which is really there to set up the book / plot, not the character.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  5. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I'd actually like to read a book with no protagonist. I know I'm probably very much alone.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm having trouble conceptualizing this. Do you mean no central character, or a central character who just doesn't want anything or do anything, or...?
     
  7. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Both... It could be an interesting read?
     
  8. Wayfarer33
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    Wayfarer33 Member

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    There's no reason the protagonist needs to be introduced right away. I have a project on the back burner where the hero isn't introduced until several chapters in, and even then, it's not immediately clear that he is the hero. (Of course, he's five at the time - certain events need to be clearly recorded for future reference before I can jump forward into the main action). I think Donna Tartt did something similar to what you mention in The Little Friend. I agree that a chapter-length prologue would be fine, too. It's really your call. Do what feels true to your book, not what you think fits a 'bestseller formula.' Those kind of things usually don't give readers enough credit.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Would the first chapter mention the protagonist? Perhaps another POV character discussing him/her? That could definitely work. But if you mean no reference made to the protagonist at all, I'd have to ask what that first chapter is all about and is it really necessary. Beware the risk of a massive infodump.
     
  10. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have a prologue from the antagonist's point of view in flashback, with the protagonist surfacing at the beginning of Chapter 1.

    I would personally think that if you have some form of prologue action that's separated from the main story by time or space (and it's reasonably short), then it's ok for the protagonist not to surface (as long as they surface immediately after).

    We can debate the necessity (or lack thereof) of the dreaded flashback prologue all day - but when you have something like that, I think it's OK to set up the villain's menacing plot first...and then when we meet our lovable protagonist in the next scene, the implication is that this person is about to be swept up into whatever storm that we've already seen forming.
     
  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Could maybe have a link to the protagonist. Like in Star Wars - the whole first few minutes ( which would probably be a chapter in a novel ) shows Darth Vadar kidnapping Leia. The robots escape and they ( along with Leia ) become a link for the protagonist Luke.
     
  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Be careful also that once readers finish chapter one, they're likely to be engaged with the character and therefore want to read more about that same character. To throw in an entirely different character come chapter two means your reader has to re-establish the connection they've already made with the first character (the antag) and that means more effort, which makes it risky in terms of losing your reader. Personally I get annoyed with POV swaps unless I have already been introduced to the character whose POV I'm jumping to.
     
  13. Elena Schmetterling
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    Elena Schmetterling Member

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    Would your opinion change if Chapter 1 were not Chapter 1 but a prologue instead? It'll be in the third person. Either way, the second "chapter" would introduce the protagonist, but the antagonist would also appear, and both would be present from
     
  14. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    I feel that if you thoroughly establish that it's the antagonist that you're reading then it's fine, but if you don't, I agree with @Mckk that the POV switch could be confusing, daunting, and lose the reader.

    However, depending on how long the first section is, you could avoid using any title, such as prologue, then open up the introduction to the protagonist as chapter one so that the reader is more aware that the story has just begun. I'm not sure this would work, though, if your initial antagonist introduction is lengthy. Good replacements to traditional titles are stuff like times or dates. It depends what's relevant to your story, though.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2015
  15. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That entirely depends if it is genuinely prologue material. I'd keep the antag chapter as chapter one if it's more suitable as chapter one. I think the key is linking things back to the protag - so say the chapter's about Sue but Mary's the protag, it would be enough for me that Mary's mentioned in Sue's chapter.

    To give an actual example, Brandon Sanderson's Elantris alternates POV characters between the two MCs and the supposed villain. His opening chapter starts with his protag Raoden. In this chapter, I am informed that he is betrothed to a woman called Sarene, only now Raoden's been struck with a deadly curse and his fate is uncertain. Chapter two opens with Sarene, who has secretly made her way to Raoden's kingdom early to surprise him.

    I didn't mind the POV shift because I already knew who Sarene was, and the situation of knowing Raoden has been exiled and locked away, while Sarene's here specifically to see and marry him and still ignorant of what's happened to her betrothed - that sort of tension kept me reading.

    So I'd say for you, set something up that's similar. Somehow introduce your protag, even if just in passing, in your antag's chapter so the reader already knows who this character is when they show up. Set up a situation such that it keeps the reader interested despite the change in POV - perhaps the change in POV is the thing that's interesting. For example if you had the reader wondering how the protag would respond after reading about the antag, and then you switch to the protag's POV.

    However, as always, do what's right for your story. There're a million and one ways of writing a good novel - the trick is knowing how. You're in the early days, so don't be afraid to experiment. If in doubt, write it and see how it goes :) The truth is, if it's just a matter of labelling it "Chapter One" or "Prologue" or even adding a new chapter before or after, all these things can be done later in the edit/rewrite stage. Openings are notorious for being changed once your draft's actually done, so don't worry too much about it just now.
     
  16. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's pretty flexible. Take Witness (the movie) for instance. Harrison Ford doesn't show up until the first turning point, about 30 minutes into the movie. Whether this takes an extraordinary amount of skill to pull off, I don't know.
     
  17. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Indeed.

    I believe it's more a case of just making it clear within the story, and the golden rule of art is there isn't any rules. Just experiment to your hearts content, and if it doesn't work then try something else. It took Edison an immense amount of tries before he successfully invented the light bulb, but he found a way, and that is what's important.
     
  18. Elena Schmetterling
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    Elena Schmetterling Member

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    Thanks for your responses, there really isn't any way that I can involve the main character in this prologue, and I just don't think it would work as a first chapter either. It's fine, I think I will be able to weave what I wanted for the prologue into a subplot.
     
  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think it's a question of prologue vs. Chapter One. It's a question of how and when to have the reader engage with your protagonist. That's why I asked if the prologue at least makes reference to the protagonist.
     

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