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ad_dupont
09-08-2014, 07:27 PM
Hi there. I'm writing an epic fantasy and just wondered what everyone's thoughts are about a dilemma I'm having with the very beginning.

My question is this:

Would it bother you as a reader if the first chapter started with someone other than the main character?

I keep hearing a lot of advice that you should start immediately with the main character and the story problem, etc. But in my case, I feel that that approach isn't working. However, I worry that it may confuse people into thinking that the viewpoint character of Chapter 1 is the MC and have them go into a tailspin or something. Personally, it would not bother me as a reader, just trying to gauge others' opinions on the subject.

Thanks!

PS: The story has multiple story lines and multiple VP characters, so it's not unusual for there to be others, just concerned about MC not being "first" -- thanks!

mrsmig
09-08-2014, 07:38 PM
It can be done, sure. I started mine from the antagonist's POV, to establish stakes and tension. The very next chapter was the introduction of the MC, though.

rwm4768
09-08-2014, 07:56 PM
A lot of epic fantasies start out with someone other than the main character. The back of the book usually tells you who the main characters are.

I don't think a book starting off away from the MC has ever deterred me from reading it.

ad_dupont
09-08-2014, 08:05 PM
Ok, I'm feeling encouraged by these responses. After all, LOTR doesn't start out with Frodo -- it starts out with Bilbo and his birthday party! That couldn't be any further from the true plot, but it serves to introduce the reader to the world that Frodo is leaving behind.

I try to explain this to some people in critique groups and they say it's the kiss of death not to start with the MC because people will get attached to the first character they meet. I have more faith in the readers I hope to attract than that. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't kidding myself. It's come to my attention that not everyone in the world thinks the same way I do!

Buffysquirrel
09-08-2014, 09:11 PM
Certainly you can do this. I don't like it simply because I will tend to empathise with the first character who's introduced--I have this issue with films, too--so frequently find myself on the wrong side, lol.

Blinkk
09-08-2014, 09:20 PM
This is pretty common in crime and mystery. The story starts out with some grizzly murder or some unsuspecting victim finding a body. Then chapter two starts with the MC detective. Or something along those lines. :D

You should do whatever the story needs. If your story needs to start without the main character, then so be it. That wouldn't turn me away as a reader. I hear what Buffy said - there is a bit of emphasis on the first character that's introduced. That character/set of problems are the reader's first impression, and first impressions stick. Some people may fall into Buffy's camp, while others, like me, may not care that much. It's up to you to decide what you want to do.

Personally, I hate it when an author spends three or four chapters with one character then suddenly switches to another storyline/set of characters completely. I find myself wanting to go back to the first character, almost ignoring this secondary story. But your story doesn't sound like that one, because what I'm describing is two parallel storylines happening at the same time.

Anyways, I think I'm rambling now. I need another cup :e2coffee:

Roxxsmom
09-08-2014, 11:31 PM
Ok, I'm feeling encouraged by these responses. After all, LOTR doesn't start out with Frodo -- it starts out with Bilbo and his birthday party! That couldn't be any further from the true plot, but it serves to introduce the reader to the world that Frodo is leaving behind.

I try to explain this to some people in critique groups and they say it's the kiss of death not to start with the MC because people will get attached to the first character they meet. I have more faith in the readers I hope to attract than that. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't kidding myself. It's come to my attention that not everyone in the world thinks the same way I do!

Well, LoTR was in omniscient, so it wasn't really in any character pov, but in storytelling mode by the narrator.

But yeah, the focus was on Bilbo and on events that happened a long time before the main story got started. Slow starts and big gaps in the narrative can be offputting to modern readers, but it's all in the execution.

I tend to expect that the first chapter will be in the pov of the main character, but there are many fantasy epics that don't really have a single "main" in the way traditional stories do. George RR Martin's stuff comes to mind (of course, he opens with a prologue and a one-off disposable pov).

Buffysquirrel
09-09-2014, 01:17 AM
This is pretty common in crime and mystery. The story starts out with some grizzly murder or some unsuspecting victim finding a body. Then chapter two starts with the MC detective.

If it's a grizzly murder, you don't need a detective. You need Animal Control!

Once!
09-09-2014, 09:42 AM
It wouldn't bother me unless it took too long for the MC to turn up. Or if it was confusing/ misleading me by introducing a character who looked like the MC but then turned out to be a support character.

After all, doesn't just about every Shakespeare play start with someone other than the main character?

Blinkk
09-09-2014, 10:11 AM
If it's a grizzly murder, you don't need a detective. You need Animal Control!

Ha, okay, brownie points for you. :Cake:
</CakePosingAsABrownie>

Buffysquirrel
09-09-2014, 02:53 PM
ooh, cake!

Jenkki
09-14-2014, 04:47 PM
My general feeling is that if you are a new writer dealing with multiple POVs it might be tricky and distracting. I can't be more specific than that without seeing the work.

It's kind of like a musician asking another musician, should I start this song with a guitar riff or a drum solo, without playing the song for them first. Could even Louis Armstrong answer that?

Jo Zebedee
09-14-2014, 04:52 PM
I'm okay with it as a reader but I've heard it can be a problem when querying because the chapter doesn't match the query, if that makes sense?

snowpea
09-14-2014, 05:52 PM
Like in Great Gatsby? Except he's telling the whole story there. It can be done.

WornTraveler
09-14-2014, 10:34 PM
I don't see any problem with it in theory. Obviously execution is key, but I find that a lot of the "Don't do this" style 'tips' people share on sites such as this, conferences, blogs, et. al. is really less a general tip and more oriented towards people literally JUST starting out in their story-telling career.

Starting with the MC certainly is easier. You don't distract the reader with any potentially unnecessary info or characterization, you can get right to crisis (if that's how you roll- personally, as a reader, I find the 'jump right into action' trend a little jarring), and there's no doubt who the story is about. But I think someone mentioned that most anyone ever reading your book will have at least a hint of who the main character is.

That said, don't spend 10k words on a character, kill them off, and THEN get to the protag. I suppose if you're bloody brilliant you could manage it, but I operate under the general assumption that no one on AW, myself included, is the next great million-copies-sold novelist.

Smiling Ted
09-16-2014, 07:56 PM
The first chapter does NOT need to introduce the main character; that's nonsense. However, the reader should know relatively early on that there was a reason for that chapter to be there, even if they're not quite sure what that reason is. [Nothing kills my interest as a reader more quickly than the sneaking suspicion that an author has included a chapter just because he thinks it's cool.]

JJ Litke
09-16-2014, 09:08 PM
I try to explain this to some people in critique groups and they say it's the kiss of death not to start with the MC because people will get attached to the first character they meet. I have more faith in the readers I hope to attract than that. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't kidding myself. It's come to my attention that not everyone in the world thinks the same way I do!

Readers attaching to the first character they meet is a legitimate concern, though. In murder mysteries, readers expect that they might begin with the victim, so they aren't put out by it—that's not the case in fantasy. Managing reader expectations is going to be key to doing this successfully.

The fact that all the specific examples in this thread are huge books seems like a red flag to me. Household-name authors can get away with things that new writers can't.

Dave Williams
09-29-2014, 05:52 PM
That is very nearly Clive Cussler's trade mark.

And for some reason, the intro/expository chapter is usually much better written than the rest of the book IMHO.

victoriakmartin
09-29-2014, 06:20 PM
I think it's fine to not introduce the MC right away. While some readers may get attached to the first character they meet, not everyone will (for me, it's far more common to get attached to a supporting character than the MC, no matter who was introduced first).

Harry Potter also starts with more focus on Dumbledore than Harry himself, who is pretty much just a prop at that point, given his age. Of course, this is another famous example but I think it's important to remember that it wasn't when it was first published - JK Rowling was an unknown back then. Granted, Harry's name being in the title makes it pretty clear he is the MC but still, it can be done and turn out very successful.

I'd say especially at the early writing stage, go with whatever feels natural to you. If you decide later on that it would be better to introduce the MC first, you can always move things around.

Fizgig
09-29-2014, 06:50 PM
As a reader, I have no problem with it at all.

I did query a novel (Adult Fantasy) that began with a non-MC viewpoint and I had 2 separate agents comment negatively on it. Overall the book still generated a ton of requests so it wasn't the kiss of death, but I do think it was a negative for some. Just FYI.

Latina Bunny
09-29-2014, 07:08 PM
Like everyone else said, it's fine (as long as it's well-written, too). :) Many mysteries, epic fantasies (and some epic scifi) can have this. There are legit reasons why authors would choose not to start the story with the MC. It's totally fine.

For me, personally, I don't usually like to read this kind of thing, because I tend to get attached to characters quickly, but then again I don't enjoy multiple character POV switches, so that's a personal taste thing. :)

ScottleeSV
10-01-2014, 12:03 AM
Hi there. I'm writing an epic fantasy and just wondered what everyone's thoughts are about a dilemma I'm having with the very beginning.

My question is this:

Would it bother you as a reader if the first chapter started with someone other than the main character?

I keep hearing a lot of advice that you should start immediately with the main character and the story problem, etc. But in my case, I feel that that approach isn't working. However, I worry that it may confuse people into thinking that the viewpoint character of Chapter 1 is the MC and have them go into a tailspin or something. Personally, it would not bother me as a reader, just trying to gauge others' opinions on the subject.

Thanks!

PS: The story has multiple story lines and multiple VP characters, so it's not unusual for there to be others, just concerned about MC not being "first" -- thanks!

My book is exactly the same as yours in this regard, and I'm not especially worried.

You only have to look as far as Game of Thrones to find a well known book that starts this way, and I'm sure there are thousands of other examples.

CrastersBabies
10-01-2014, 02:35 AM
Doesn't bother me in the least, as long as there is a reason and it makes sense to the telling of the story. I say go forth and create!

Samsonet
10-01-2014, 04:20 AM
Just be careful that the reader doesn't like the first-chapter character more than the MC!

taeray
10-01-2014, 05:50 AM
Totally fine in my opinion. I've read plenty of books that have pulled that off. I think as long as people understand why they were introduced to that character that it will work.

E.F.B.
10-02-2014, 10:50 PM
Totally fine in my opinion. I've read plenty of books that have pulled that off. I think as long as people understand why they were introduced to that character that it will work.
Exactly.

The first chapter of my WIP is from the perspective of a character other than the MC because it was important to see the event in the introduction through that character's eyes and know how she felt about it. The MC is then introduced in the next chapter. IMHO, it's working fine and I've read similar things with no confusion on my part, so it's not something I've ever worried about.

Primus
10-03-2014, 09:25 AM
Like everyone else has stated above: no problem here. You can certainly do it and feel comfortable doing it. I be doin the same thing for one of my book's (technically in the prologue, but...ehhh––tomato, tomato. You get it).

ckmartin
10-13-2014, 10:47 AM
There is an element of genre at play here too. Epic Fantasy readers tend to expect a large cast of characters and are less surprised by an 'intro' chapter. In other genres it doesn't work as well if the readers are expecting a single POV throughout.

cat_named_easter
10-16-2014, 02:10 AM
I'm in a similar situation. My whole novel is third person but the first chapter is a flashback/scene from the distant past, then the second chapter is a brief something else (too difficult to explain!) and it's only at the third chapter that my MC comes in.
I might get negative comments from beta readers and reconsider but for my story and what I'm trying to do, I think it should work. Go with your gut and like a few others have said, I don't think in writing there are absolute rules.
If you've read the uber-successful "Wool" then you'll know that you really don't get to focus on the MC until about a third of the way in! Same with Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy - Lisbeth isn't fully explored until WAY into the first novel.