Suppose, the main idea that you want the readers to understand about your character is that so-and-so… say Bob… is very brave and has fought hundreds of battles. Well, of course you wouldn’t want to introduce Bob to the story by having him wake up and eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast and then set off for work. No, you would have Bob enter in a way that would exhibit his bravery and skill after having fought hundreds of battles. That way, right from the start, the reader understands a little bit about Bob and you set the stage for the rest of the story.
Just like your first chapter sets the stage for your story to come, the character’s entry sets the stage for their character and behavior throughout the rest of the story. Your character’s entrance must draw the reader’s interest, gain their compassion and their attention. You want the reader to sympathize with your main character and be engaged in their lives right from the start. You want your character to be remembered right? Well, a boring entrance will not distinguish your character from any other characters in the story… or millions of other characters in other books.
This is what you want to accomplish with your character entry!
Besides writing, I also enjoy acting. I was in a play recently where my directors stressed that you have to know what your character is doing before coming on stage. I thought about it for a bit, and it really makes sense. Knowing what your character is doing before he/she comes on stage, gives a sense of depth to your character. It makes the audience feel that this is a real person, not simply an actor walking out on stage into the scene and then walking off stage to wait for the next one.
So, when the lights are called and the cameras are ready, you shout out “action” and your character steps out on the stage of your story for the first time… what sort of an entrance do you want them to make? Another way to think about it is: What do you want the reader to know first about your character? Then write your entrance to show them this and to engage their attention.
Two other things that are vitally important to the movement of your storyline and plot are the stakes and the intensity. What is at stake, in your story? Does your character have good enough incentive to do what he/she does? Are the stakes high enough? What about intensity? Is the goal difficult enough to reach?
Why does your character do the things he/she does? Why does he/she feel the need to fight that battle? You must raise the stakes for your character; give them an incentive, a reason to face death and danger. A poor incentive will not engage your readers’ sympathy and interest.
A bad example – in my opinion – of raising the stakes would be in the movie The Return of the King. (Granted I absolutely love the Lord of the Rings books and movies, but this is one instance where I think the movie directors/script writers did not do well.)
It is the middle of the movie. Aragorn has just succeeded in convincing King Theoden that Rohan should ride to Gondor’s aid. Aragorn knows that if the Ring is not destroyed, Sauron will take over the world, time is running short, Gondor is about to be defeated. He has to act. Then, in a move unprecedented by the book, the movie writers sought to “raise the stakes” by having Elrond ride all the way from Rivendell (an impossibly long journey, I might add) to tell Aragorn that Arwen is dying.
If you look at the epic movies Braveheart and Gladiator (also some of my favorites) both heroes started with a personal incentive at first (revenge for the loss of a dear one) and then moved on to a bigger broader goal (the saving of the people, restoring of justice and freedom). In my view, that is how you should raise the stakes, like stair steps, going up and growing bigger and broader.
Is the goal difficult enough to achieve?
A good example of adding intensity to the story takes place in the Fellowship of the Ring at the very end of the movie (we’ll stick with the movie for now, since all the other examples I used were from movies!) The Fellowship has just left Lothlorien after losing Gandalf in Moria. Traveling by boat, they halt for the night on the Western shore just a short ways above the rapids of Sarn Gebir and a gigantic waterfall. No plan has yet been decided upon, but the Fellowship is watchful, on the lookout for enemies on the Eastern shore (the shore closest to Mordor).
And now suddenly the plot thickens. The company is beset by foes both from within and without. Boromir gives in to temptation and tries to take the ring from Frodo. The Fellowship is suddenly attacked by orcs from Isengard. Frodo, realizing that the temptation which has overcome Boromir is also a danger to the rest of the company, decides that he must go on alone. Thankfully Sam joins him just in time. The rest of the Fellowship are off battling orcs. Boromir dies trying to save Merry and Pippin when the two young hobbits are captured by the orcs. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli decide to follow the orcs to try to rescue Merry and Pippin. And so, at this moment of crisis, the company is split, the fellowship is broken…
And lots of intensity is added to the story! Obviously raising the stakes and intensity are closely allied. When you raise the stakes, you add intensity to the story. So both are necessary to a good plot.
Anyway, lots of random thoughts on writing. Hope it wasn’t too boring. But I’ve been thinking about all that a lot lately in my writing.
Update on writing: Innocent Blood (now tentatively titled Out of Darkness Rising) is in the second round of editing. Getting close to being finished!
So long for now!
~ A Servant of the King