?

I personally prefer a strong relationship (friendship) to be intact or formed by 200 pages in:

  1. Yes

    42.9%
  2. Not necessarily

    57.1%
  1. Sher Duncan

    Sher Duncan New Member

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    Introducing main characters too late?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Sher Duncan, Apr 16, 2019.

    I'm 200+ pages into my first novel out of (hopefully) a trilogy or quartet and I plan for my first to be about 350-400 pages. My issue is, I've already killed off the first set of characters to spark the big conflict that drives my protagonist and she's now with a group but I never intended them to be significant.

    Is this a bad move so far into the novel? I could always keep one or two of them with her. Should I go back and take away names, details, moments of camaraderie to lessen the readers emotional investment in those characters OR should I have introduced more permanent supporting characters by now?

    Thanks for any help or advice!

    PS. I've also come to realise I want the whole thing in third person and have to re-write it anyway. So drastic advice is fine... I don't know what possessed me to write it in first.
     
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  2. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Supporter Contributor

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    It depends on the relationship the protag had with the killed-off characters.

    If they were significant to her and she went through a grieving process and then found the new group and built a "new life" so to speak and she experienced a "renewal" that shows character development and change. So, that may work.

    If not, and the only people that matter to her in the entire book are the second group, the pacing may seem off and the character arc uneven.
     
  3. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Supporter Contributor

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    You'll probably want to introduce your very most important (two or three) characters pretty quickly so that the reader knows who the story is about. You can introduce other characters later though. There are plenty of good books that wait a while to introduce the major supporting cast (The Name of the Wind being an example that comes to mind; the first half of the book goes through traveling minstrels and Oliver Twist before it gets to the Harry Potter setting, introducing a whole bunch of supporting gryffindors and ravenclaws at that point).
     
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  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    My first reading of this suggests that you may go well past 200 pages before we see the important characters, and thus, as I might see it, before the story really starts. I may be totally misunderstanding--can you offer a little more detail?
     
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  5. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    • Killing characters off just to motivate protagonist - yes, bad move.
    • 200 pages in and there are still no important friendships and characters besides your MC? - do you even need to ask?
    • A group the MC's with that was never meant to be important - yes, bad.

    I've done two out of three of the above myself by the way. Yes, it's bad. No reader's gonna care or want to read the book if for TWO HUNDRED PAGES there's no one who's important to the MC and those you've led the reader to think are important actually aren't. Everything should have purpose in your book - what's the purpose of these characters and relationships if they are not important to the plot?

    To me it sounds like there are things developing that you never planned. Ditch the plan. It doesn't sound like it's working anyway. Let those relationships develop. Just go with it. See where it takes you. Sometimes you find the best characters that way. One of my best characters (a favourite for several beta readers) was created completely by accident and she was meant to die at the beginning of the book. She ended up being a POV character who stayed all the way till the end.

    But you gotta let it happen. Don't put things in there just to make your plan work. Follow your plan roughly and then deviate wherever it makes sense. After a little while, regroup and alter your plan accordingly.

    Strip your book to its core and ask yourself, what is the essence of your book? What is the essence of the characters? Everything else can be changed to suit. Use the simplest, fastest way to tell that story. Delete everything else. Delete any details and plot points and themes that are just not coming in naturally, that seem convoluted. If you have to shoehorn something into the book, it probably doesn't belong there. Kill your darlings. This saying really rings true here. For me, I killed off a significant plot point that involved a talking tree that visited my MC's dreams and was supposed to be the source of my MC's special powers and affect his decisions - yes, a pretty significant plot point, really (and thank the Lord I got rid of it. It was one of my most major blockers to making the story make sense).

    12 years it took me. (I'm querying woo!) Do you know how many drafts it's been? (mind you, after this long, the query and synopsis came pretty easily because you've spent that long trying to boil things down to the core) Don't copy me lol. It doesn't have to take that long!
     
  6. jannert

    jannert Super Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I know this view is anathaema to people who like to closely plot their stories, but I'd say don't worry about what you've already written. Just keep going.

    500 pages from now, you might discover that the first 350 don't actually fit at all! But once you do know who your important characters actually are, you may find what your story's starting point actually should be. And here's a gleam of light—you might also see where you can fit some of those first 350 pages into your story after all. It could be backstory, flashback, memories your main character has, perhaps comparisons your main character makes with her new situation in her new group, etc.

    I'm with @Mckk on this one.
    I think when you get stuck like this, and aren't sure how to fit something in, this is the best way out of it. Just keep going. 'Killing your darlings' later on can sound harsh, but my own experience has been the opposite. Getting rid of something that's holding a story back is incredibly cathartic. (You can hang onto everything in a separate file, and restore it later if cutting it out was a mistake, so there's nothing to fear.)

    It's like having a clear-out. You throw away stuff that you once valued, but now it's lost its appeal or usefulness to you. It feels wonderful to have that clogged space free.

    I believe no time you spend writing is 'wasted' time, other than, perhaps, tinkering endlessly with whatever is bothering you. Until you get new insight, tinkering actually doesn't improve things much. But discarding stuff you wrote earlier because it didn't work? That's a learning experience and it feels great. That's always valuable to know.
     
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  7. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    I think there's two things you want to steer clear of. One is having barely-developed red-shirts who the reader knows they don't need to get invested in. Private Deadmeat reporting, sergeant! Have I mentioned today how this will be my last deployment before I get to leave this war and go back to my loving family and this girl who I'm going to marry? :)

    But the other is having the doomed characters be too interesting, so when they're gone, the reader is unfavourably comparing other characters (or the protagonists) to the ones they lost.

    If it was me, I'd keep one or two of them round--it would stop the break from being so traumatic that it would be something that would dominate the protagonist's personality and make them less fun. Also, there's a lot of dramatic meat in the relationship of two survivors changing dramatically from what it was.
     
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  8. Sher Duncan

    Sher Duncan New Member

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    That is EXACTLY how I feel!! Like I've faffed on without really starting the story! Thank you. I think I needed to hear someone else say it to really bring it out.
     
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  9. Sher Duncan

    Sher Duncan New Member

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    I'm thinking of this too. Basically, her city was overrun by a rebel group and loads of the upper echelon were slaughtered to make way for the new regime. So she sets out to beseech other countries for help but the main country, Imani, has had their borders closed for a few hundred years since the first rebellion. So no one outside trusts anyone from Imani and my protagonist is presenting herself as an emissary to open trading routes, etc as if the country has changed. She's going for an audience with the King in the closest country and a small company of border guards are escorting her to the capital. I've made several of them far too detailed and given them quirks/personalities and I either have to cut that back and make them shells OR like you said, bring one or two with her. I'm leaning towards the latter as the above advice is right- 200 pages in and it's like the story hasn't even begun if I dump characters again.
     
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  10. Sher Duncan

    Sher Duncan New Member

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    Thanks all for the solid advice! I can't believe what an instant, comprehensive response I've gotten from so many. I literally just joined and posted these with zero expectations.

    I think I do need to go back and cut out a few chunks of nothing. It's not like she's motivated by revenge killings as such- it was a hostile takeover and she's seeking help. Or is that the same thing?? The story isn't focused on that. Her attempts to seek help won't be dragged out- she's going to be arrested. Anyway, it will lead more to character development as that is the essence of my story and in the sequel (is this poor etiquette to discuss a sequel?) she finds out that the takeover was internal from her best friend who is one of those "good intentions" kind of character. Her character stays true- but she believes the end justifies the means for the greater good. I don't know yet if she's a villain or one of those strange Little Finger characters (but not self-serving).

    I have so many bones but I'm struggling to give it flesh without jumbling up the bones... maybe I do really have to "drop" the plans :cry: I'll just keep little post-it notes of events/scenes that I want and if the opportunity comes across where it fits, I'll stick it in. The group the MC is with was GOING to be important (a fling with one of the troops) but the character I made for her... I hate him. I don't want her to have a fling with him. So I guess that is where the story evolved and I got stuck. There's one in the group that was meant to be the funny companion but something happened and now he's gone serious and suspicious... I've lost control of the characters?!
     
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  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Is it possible that the sequel is the real beginning of the story? I hate to keep saying such discouraging things, but on the other hand, digging yourself out of a swamp and starting more solid progress is maybe encouraging instead?

    My own WIP has a war as important life-changing background, and those events are frequently referred to, but the only scene that's actually set during the war is (lemme check...) 700 words of flashback.
     
  12. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This last bit made me giggle. I feel ya. It happened to me too, except the person that morphed was my MC. I gave him a name I didn't like, just because everyone else liked it. He ended up being absolutely insufferable. I hated him :bigconfused: Then I introduced a side character who was the female MC's friend, whom I liked much more, and the chemistry between the friend and the female MC was instant. But I'd planned for the insufferable male MC and female MC to get together.

    Result? I made that friend into the new MC and gave him a name change. After the name change, he isn't exactly the same character as the side character was first envisioned.

    Either way... this was how I discovered my actual MC.

    If you have strong feelings about something, trust your gut and go as your feelings dictate. You need to learn when to stay on course and when to go with the flow, but usually when the feeling is strong, it's wiser to go with it. Your story will not be as you'd planned or envisioned - IT WILL BE BETTER.

    Yes you read that right. It. Will. Be. Better. Better than you ever imagined.

    Stay strong. Keep at it!

    ETA: Name changes often affect the character's actual personality. Beware of this. Giving your character a needed name change could change everything!
     
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  13. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I agree with @jannert, don't try to edit at this time. Intentionally or otherwise, you have some sort of character arc going for your protag. This is a first draft, and a whole lot of first draft stuff will end up in the delete file. Just keep going, get to the finish line, and see what supports the story as it has evolved, and what does not. Editing your early chapters now is an exercise in procrastination, and editing will kill your confidence in yourself and your story.
     
  14. jannert

    jannert Super Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I especially like that last line: editing will kill your confidence in yourself and your story. While I suppose some people will feel differently, I reckon it's an issue to consider. There is that 'roll' you get on when you're writing first time, and if you start second-guessing every decision, you're going to lose vital momentum.

    There is nothing you write that can't be changed later on, if you feel it needs to go, or be revamped. What is hard to do is regain your enthusiasm, once you've lost it. That's why I always advocate moving on, rather than backtracking.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2019
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  15. jannert

    jannert Super Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That was actually my feeling as well, especially after reading all the feedback.
     
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  16. Sher Duncan

    Sher Duncan New Member

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    You guys are amazing. I can't believe what a gem I've stumbled on in this website! Sorry to reply so slowly, my toddler and school work (second last practicum- woohoo!) kind of take over. Thinking of the sequel as the start is very... provoking. Do you think all the main characters should be present in the first novel? The main interest was going to be introduced in the second but I recently thought how great if it wasn't a perfect love story and she didn't end up with him... I'm so conscious of the flaws I've found in other writers that I'm almost focusing more on NOT doing them than doing my own thing. Might need to meditate on this lol.

    For example, I LOVE the romance and character arc of stockholm syndrome in a novel... but if you've read Maria V. Snyder's, ALL of her romances are stockholm except I think one side character. And in Sarah J Maas Court of Whatever series- all the most "unbelievably powerful" ones are all in love or related to each other. Like, who can realistically stop that unstoppable force? They're all so perfectly beautiful and strong and powerful and I hate that. I feel like Juliet Marillier has such a wonderful variety in her character relationships and their personalities.. I think of her and look at my own characters and think it's just such an unattainable level that maybe you just need to naturally have "it". Maybe it's also because her backstory and world building and plot twists are incredible too :p I'm still debating whether or not my world should have real "gods" that interact/interfere. It would change a lot. Big sigh :cry:

    I really love all the advice I've gotten from everyone. You're very insightful.
     
  17. Sark1986

    Sark1986 Member

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    Wanting to change the POV is fine and you can usually do that without a significant rewrite, depending on exactly how focused your main POV character is on themselves.

    My personal opinion is that it is never too late to introduce a new main character - or bring a character into the spotlight who previously was not. This is where it really helps to make sure you edit your story thoroughly after your first run through. If you are going to have a big die-off of main charcters then you either need to have characters already in development to take their place or better still your story could focus more on the protagonist. Find a way to make her a relatable character and use her story as your ultimate focus.
    Obviously, a lot of this really depends on how you have structured your characters over the previous 200 pages. But also, if you think it's not salvageable as is, it's okay to start again. Make some notes of key plot points and twists that worked, make details notes of characters and their personalities. The second time through is definitely much easier if you do this, and it will allow you to restructure where you need to.
    One word of advice I would offer when working on longer stories, however, is to make sure you have a clear idea of how each chapter advances your story, as well as which characters you wish to bring into the spotlight. Personally, I don't really know exactly how each chapter will play out, but I try to keep in mind exactly what I want to achieve with it and a goal to reach the next plot point (even if that plot point is sometimes 2-3 chapters away)

    Si
     
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  18. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's pretty safe to say that most writers have done this, and yes, it can be devastating to your creativity. Just get your story written, then worry about fixing any issues. Unless you're someone who can edit as you go without hitting writer's block or feeling discouraged, the first draft is about getting the story written. After it's written you can look it over and highlight what you want to tweak, delete, or completely overhaul. Don't worry about the mistakes other writers have made and instead look at them as writing tools.

    Try to figure out why each mistake was made. Was it really a mistake, or was the author targeting a different audience than yourself? Was it due to lack of editing? What was the author going for, and is there a better way to achieve it? Does it feel like the author is just being lazy, and if so, why? Write down what issues you're worried about and after your story is written look for those issues one by one and correct them. If you look for them all at once you're likely going to get overwhelmed and miss more than you would if you looked for one of them specifically--and you will inevitably miss something on each edit, and that's okay; that's why we have so many edits and ensuing drafts.

    Well of course Ms. Juliet is at a higher level than you--she's a professional who's already gone through all the hair pulling, self doubting, rewriting, learning mess that all writers have to go through. And those stories that feel so perfect and polished? They have been perfected and polished, through many drafts and many edits.

    Don't compare your first draft to her completed novel. A first draft will never compare well to a well-edited novel (unless the author edited as they went, but I think most of us leave the majority of editing for later drafts). For a long time I compared my writing to the writing of others, and especially to the authors who inspire me the most. It was a devastating comparison; I never added up. I never could add up. We are all different people with different strengths, weaknesses, and writing styles, and until we learn to appreciate our own strengths, everything we write will feel sub-par when we compare them to others.

    I'm an alpha reader for a fantasy writer on this forum who's very good at giving his story the feeling of history and depth. Compared to his story, my comparable WIP felt like it had no history or world building whatsoever, which led to it feeling like it was to shallow to wet my feet in. Even though the only thing I was comparing was our world building, everything else in my story started to feel equally shallow--including my characters and their interactions, which I've been told I'm actually really good at, that it's my strength. If you focus on even just one thing that you love in another author that you don't think you have, you're going to start seeing everything in your story as bad and you're going to get discouraged.

    You have your own writing strengths, and the more you write and read, the more those strengths will come out and help you. Don't give up, and keep writing.
     
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  19. mrieder79

    mrieder79 Probably not a ground squirrel Contributor

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    Finish the book before editing. Finish the book before editing. Finish the book before editing. Finish the book before editing.

    Unless you have lots of experience (read, you have finished multiple books) and know, from that experience, that things are definitely going in the wrong direction, you should...

    Finish the book before editing.

    It is normal in your first few books to have doubts. It is normal for the plot to change (especially if you are a seat-of-the-pants type). It is okay for things to go off in a different direction. Just get that story on paper as best you can and once you are finished, you let it sit for a few weeks, then you can go back and start molding it into something coherent.

    If you go back now and start editing before you even finish the story, you'll get to page 300 and hit the same crisis, and again at pg 400. Don't do that. It's a time sink and a huge blow to momentum and confidence. Just finish the book. That is enough for now. Edit later.

    Hope this helps and best of luck.
     
  20. Sher Duncan

    Sher Duncan New Member

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    Yes! I've had incredible breakthroughs the last week or so and it's felt wonderful to be racing to get those ideas down and characters are swimming in my bucket of next-to-be's! I've stopped editing. I took a little break to make a cover, query and add my map in.

    That's a great plan... I'll keep that in mind from now on- conceivably, it seems like a game-changer for my mentality towards writing (and when I do my first full-book edit). Thanks so much, I'll let you know how it goes and hopefully you see the post some months from now!

    Thanks! I feel a little sheepish calling them mistakes now. I can be really judgemental as a reader at times but as a writer, meek as a kitten haha. Juliet Marillier ahh I'd go full crazy fan if I met her in person. I don't think I'd be able to speak. I'd just stand there and cry at her. Haha I would be absolutely star struck and make a total fool of myself.

    I think the issue of the writer creating themselves and their interests as the main characters (re: Sarah J Maas and how all of her characters are witty and avid readers) has given me the strength to create characters as real people [to me] who aren't especially likeable or at all like me. But that is such a fantastic suggestion and I'm definitely on board with that! It'll be my next move when I sit down and my writing halts.... I hate that I don't have more time for it but between my toddler and my degree, I struggle big time. My son starts school in September and I'll have a short window for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week between October and January to really get some solid writing in. Hopefully it'll be only editing and polishing then!
     
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  21. Sher Duncan

    Sher Duncan New Member

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    Edit: not to say that I am especially likeable. Quite the contrary lol. I just meant that they are neither especially likeable, nor do they reflect such drastic quantities of my own personality that I am in effect writing about myself.

    Second, superfluous edit: just saw that I can edit posts on the little button. I'm slowly savvy-ing up to this site haha.
     
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  22. Gandalf the Blue

    Gandalf the Blue New Member

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    Alrighty! I suck at writing, so don't take this too seriously.

    If you ask me, getting the reader attached to the characters you intend to kill off, is a good way to help them realize how much these people meant to the protagonist. Take Peter Parker for example. (Spoiler alert if you haven't seen avengers infinity war.) He has a whole movie about him, and he appeared in one of the avengers movies before infinity war and endgame, and then he just died. Poof. Gone. Tony Stark was devastated and I understood that because I saw him with Peter and I know how much like a son he must have felt like. I don't know what it's like to lose a son, but I get the idea, he's depressed. And yes I've seen endgame but I'm not going to talk about it in case someone hasn't yet.

    So setting up characters before killing them is useful in the right situation. As for introducing main characters so late, It could work. If, as you say, you write three or fore books, there will be plenty more time for character development in the future. The lack of initial development may even convey a sense of uncertainty that the protagonist might be feeling. A sort of, "I don't know you," feeling. So it's not a terrible idea, but it could leave the reader feeling unfulfilled at the end of the first book. but then again, you want them to. That way they reed the next one.

    Again, I suck at writing, and don't know what I'm doing. But I have read books, and I know how I feel after I reed them.

    Also I'm pretty sure I'm spelling reed wrong... sorry.
     

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