Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"the seduction that is part 1"

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?


  1. I connect with a character when I recognize something about them. It can be the way they feel or react, but something about it makes me think, "Exactly! I know exactly what that's like." (In more extreme situations, they behave in a way that I think or hope I might behave.)

    That's typically what makes me care about a character.

  2. OH! I just read your previous post too. Yay! Karen! You're applying the structure! I'm trying to with my WIP but am most impressed with your discussion!

    I said it before, but this must be WHY you are good with the realism. ALL of the issues are SO VERY relatable. I LOVE the issue with the food stamps. We've had the same question but are just grateful for when we took WIC and had a kid on Medicaid and just believe in working as hard as we can to make up for it later. Believe me, I think we've covered it 100X fold already in taxes.

    Anyway, I also like that you compare the marriages. I guess in a perfect world we wouldn't but we always do. Couples struggle at different times and that's just reality.

    David Farland talks about introducing a wide variety of conflicts to pull in a variety of readers. I think you're doing this. I like the first conflict because it's something outside of the women-particular conflicts. Great way to break this down!!!

  3. (This is Tamara, using Mark's computer.) Great post, Karen! Many people go through these issues. It's great how you break it down. It's so fun to see how your blog has evolved!

  4. Sarah, and the converse is also true. When you read a book and the character is behaving in a way that doesn't fit, and you go "huh?" Too much of that, and I'm gone.

    M., I thank you for putting out that link. It just so happened that it came at a time when I was reviewing my story's structure, so I thought, hey I can use this!

    Mark -er Tamara, Hope your own computer isn't broken!!! Any why isn't Mark following my blog lol?

  5. Hi

    Gosh - lots and lots of confict here! What strikes me here is the fact that Marcie (Cindy too) doesn't have a TV for reasons stated. I'm taking that the novel is set in the here and now? If so - WOW. Now that really is something to cause ructions within the family in terms of Marcie's relationship with her kids.

    Oh I so agree that dialogue is always a good ploy to introduce a character and situations - so is internal dialogue (for drawing the personality out).

    Good stuff!

    Take care

  6. Kitty, actually Marcie not wanting TV and some of these other issues may or may not develop into conflict, but are there to show the values, lifestyle and situations of the characters. To set the stage. The real conflict shows itself a few chapters later. Although any or all of these points COULD develop into conflict, which I hope will keep readers intrigued. Just to see.

  7. Kitty, I wonder what time it is in the UK right now? Are you eating breakfast or lunch? I'm up all night because it's the only time I get peace and quiet to write. Then I go to bed about 6 a.m. and sleep till 10 a.m. Just a little fyi about my crazy routine lol!

  8. I enjoy writing, and reading, stories that open with a pivotal scene. Something is happening that demands quick decisions of the characters, shining a light on their personalities in the process. The following scenes then stem from the opening decisions, repercussions of it in a way.

  9. Karen, I want to comment on your above comment first. The only time I write in the middle of the night is if an idea nags me awake, and I don't want to lose it.

    Since you're published, you're a pro at this. You have some interesting elements on that list, and I'm curious how they come together. It's what makes a query only frustrating - it gives ideas without the manuscript's voice.

    I read Les Edgerton's, Hooked, which is all about beginnings - inciting incidents, just enough backstory, scene-setting without too much detail, foreshadowing, and the rest. When I look back at what I've written, I now make sure all the elements are present.

  10. Joanne, excellent approach

    Theresa, I'd like to read that book. Granted, it's hard to judge from a post such as this, where there's no POV or voice. But I like the advice to go with just enough backstory, not too much detail (don't want to bog the reader down early), and foreshadowing. I'll look for Edgerton's book, it sounds like a good one. Thanks for the tip.


Comments are welcome!