We keep hearing over and over about the short attention span of the reader, that we have to get to the action right away. After all, we aren't writing 19th century Jane Austen or Henry James, where we have the luxury of spending copious chapters describing the character's homes, families, clothing styles, friends, hobbies, mealtime conversation, etc etc. The modern reader won't stand for it. Still, we need to be "properly introduced," as Lynn Price (Behler Blog) says in her post, Have We Been Properly Introduced?
Larry Brooks refers to it as setting up your story, acquainting us with the main character-- where they live, what they do, what their hopes and dreams are. This allows the reader to empathize, to care, and to want to know what comes next. The set up needs to happen before any plot twists, or before the "first Plot Point".
Brooks calls this set up "the seduction that is Part 1." (I love that phrase.) Your intriguing hook in the first few paragraphs captures interest. The set up does the rest, leading readers happily into the first Plot Point which takes them the rest of the way, securely entrenched in the story. Hooray! Mission accomplished!
There are 5 missions to be accomplished in Part 1, the Set-Up. First is the hook. I shared mine last post--thank you for your feedback! Second is introducing your hero.
Here's how I do it in my current WIP. It comprises two chapters:
Marcie McGill goes with all her kids to visit her sister Cindy who lives 2 hours away. They eat dinner and they talk-- about baby Jakob, about Cindy's husband Karl, a school teacher on strike. They interact with each other and with the children. In two chapters, here's what we learn about these two families during the course of this visit (above and beyond the fact that something is wrong with Cindy's baby):
1. That the teacher strike is bitterly adversarial, pitting teachers on strike against those who cross picket lines.
2. That Cindy is conflicted about using food stamps to help get by. She would like to, but Karl's against it. What does Marcie think?
3. That the McGill family has no tv in their home, because Marcie wants her kids to read and be creative instead of watching tv, but her children figure out ways to learn about their favorite shows regardless.
4. That Elizabeth McGill, the 10-year-old daughter, hates compliments because she feels singled out. "Nobody tells the boys they have pretty eyes and a pouty mouth! I hate it!"
5. That Cindy doesn't like where they live and wants to move back to Jacksonville near Marcie.
6. That Cindy had problems nursing her two-year-old when he was an infant and, due to La Leche League counsel, refused to give him formula thus almost starving him.
7. That while Cindy and Karl have serious problems to contend with, Marcie and Shawn on the other hand, are doing quite well.
These are a few of the issues, elements and background revealed in my first two chapters. Is it enough to engage the reader in the lives of these two sisters? Is it enough to keep reading on to Chapters 3 and 4 and beyond? Let's hope so. Next post-- Illuminating What is at Stake.
How do you handle set up? How do you like to introduce your characters? I prefer dialogue, because it's more engaging than blocks of explanatory paragraphs.
What techniques of set up and introduction of characters do you like to use in writing, or enjoy seeing in the books you read?
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown
"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it." ~Jesse Stuart
"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf