Monday, September 28, 2009

Making an Entrance


MOOD STATUS: "Sleepy". Had a bad night's sleep last night.

I try to read at least one "how to" writing book a year. If I'm lucky, I'll read two.

Right now, I'm in the process of reading Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey, and it has me thinking a lot of about my main character's introduction. More specifically, on how my main character--or hero--makes an entrance into my story.

According to Vogler, how the audience first experiences your hero is an important condition you control as a storyteller. What is he doing the first time we see him, when he makes his entrance? What is he wearing, who is around him, and how do they react to him? What is his attitude, emotion, and goal at the moment?

He goes on to add, "Most important is: what is the character doing at the moment of entrance? The character's first action is a wonderful opportunity to speak volumes about his attitude, emotional state, background, strengths, and problems. The first action should be a model of the hero's characteristic attitude and the future problems or solutions that will result."

One entrance that comes to mind is from Catch a Rising Star by Tracey Bateman. I really loved how the author showed--with humor--her main character in a bunny suit reading stories to children. Her main character was once a prominent actress who gets stuck with a job she hates. Not only that, but she upsets one of the children, adding to the character's belief that she is not good with children. The stage is set now in that first meeting. We have a pretty good grasp of our hero and what makes her tick. Thus, later on when her love interest his introduced--a widower with two children--we understand the conflict and some of the growth the hero must make to accept that relationship.

In one of my favorite Susan Elizabeth Phillip's books, Honey Moon, the hero is young and praying to Walt Disney, God, and even Jesus to help her. She wants the amusement park by her house up and running again. This sets the stage of the story. Resurrecting the amusement park becomes her main goal in the story. As we get to the know the character more, we sympathize and understand why.

In my story Georgie on his Mind, my hero is mad and about to confront her brother for ruining yet another attempt at dating. I hoped to set the stage for my character's plight--or what she believes is her plight: her brother ruining her love life. This is what ultimately drives her and the story. The stage is set. Her brother is overprotective, she has had enough, and she needs to get away from it.

Have you given a lot of thought about how your main character makes his/her entrance in your book? Does your hero's actions hint to what his or her problem will be?
I thought it be fun to hear about your works in progress. :)
What is your hero doing at his/her moment of "entrance"?

31 comments:

Nadia said...

I think opening matters a lot. I end up rewriting h/H intro scenes about 5 times all from diff time, viewpoints, etc.

In my WIP, the heroine whips a man and throws him out the window.

Chicki said...

I think my current WIP has the best opening of any story I've written. My newlywed hero, who is an actor, is in the middle of filming his first love scene as his wife watches on the set.

Jessica said...

I know some of my openers could use work. One contest judge suggested I change my opening to reflect a heroic aspect of my MC. I thought that was good advice. :-)

Jennifer Shirk said...

Nadia: Why am I not suprised that you'd have an opening where your heroine is kicking butt? LOL!

Chicki: That is a great opener! It totally stes the stage and hints at the future conflict in your sotry. :)

Jessica: Oooh, that was/is good advice!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Ugh. I can't spell today.

Need more coffee...

Stephanie Faris said...

The Writers Journey is awesome. I'm reading Stephen King's On Writing again. I haven't read it in ten years so it's like reading it for the first time. There are enlightening parts...and parts that drag. But I think you have the right formula. In the beginning, it's necessary to read a bunch of those kind of novels but once you've gotten the basics, once a year as a refresher is good.

T. Anne said...

OK, now you've got me thinking long and hard about my MC's big intro moment... must go back and see the way she behaves.

Cindy said...

I like the examples you used! Those sound like some good books. My MC isn't doing anything wonderfully interesting per se but his mood and his thoughts, his distraction and irritation, his sadness and uncertainty is very telling, I believe. Cool post! I'm going to have to keep this in mind. I have two MC's and they haven't met yet so I want their encounter to be memorable.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Stephanie: I should re-read On Writing. You're right, sometimes you need a refresher. :)

Cindy: Sounds like your hero's attitude is foretelling your hero's problem. Can't wait to read it!

Tess said...

Stephen King does this well .. he'll write an opening scene of a child standing by a gravestone and you can get a clear vibe for this character. I strive to do this -- to make my opening scene be reflective of what the character's journey will include. It's tough.

hope you get a nap today or at least a better rest tonight :)

Nadia Lee said...

Nadia: Why am I not suprised that you'd have an opening where your heroine is kicking butt? LOL!

Maybe because you're a psychic? ;)

But at least no blood was spilled during the scene. *evil*

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

hmm...i opened by current WIP with an uncharacteristic trait from my MC. my intent was to set up the friction between him and love interest, of course, and then he apologizes. wonder if that will work?

jeannie
Where Romance Meets Therapy

Natalie said...

Wow, this was very interesting. I haven't ever thought about making the first action a model of the the hero's attitude, but I think I did it unintentionally. My first scene shows my heroines curiosity and that is a personality trait that keeps coming back throughout the story.

Jamie D. said...

That sounds like a good book - I'll have to look it up. I'm big on openings...more than anything I want readers to identify with my character as soon as possible.

In my current WIP, as my heroine enters she's sabotaging a date with someone she doesn't want to be with so she can get home to watch her "fantasy man" on TV. It says a lot about her right away, I think - and is the catalyst for a whole heap of trouble that drives the plot. Fun, I think.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Nadia: No blood?
Are you getting soft on me? LOL!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Jamie: That opening sounds fun--something I would probably do! LOL!

Tamika: said...

Hi Jennifer!

My opening scene finds my character stifled in a board meeting thumbing a note she received from her husband. The news is paramount to the scene and drives her to do some ingenious things to salvage her marriage.

Thanks for asking, it was interesting for me to put that into words!

Blessings to you...

Jennifer Shirk said...

Oooh, Tamika that's great!

Yes, I, too, found a whole new insight into my story once I analized my MC's "entrance".

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh my, I don't think I've done this. Everywhere I turn there is so much more to learn!!! YIKES!!!

Jeanette Levellie said...

Wow, I never thought about this, since I write mostly in first person, and non-fiction.

In my first chapter I am jazzed because I guy I want to date is interested in me. He later dumps me for no apparant reason, and I begin to correspond with a lonely minister I'd previously prayed would find a wife...

Can you guess the ending? Don't say, "It's too predictable," please. I can't change real life--ha!

Jill Kemerer said...

I want to get The Writer's Journey right now! I love anything that helps me clarify what needs to happen on the first page. Thanks!

Diane Craver said...

Great post, Jennifer. I haven't read The Writer's Journey but definitely will after reading what you learned. I feel I've done this with my latest release and my upcoming one.

Nadia said...

Nadia: No blood?
Are you getting soft on me? LOL!


Well...I do have three golden heads... ;)

Terri Tiffany said...

I'm learning how to really make my opening mean something. In my WIP, my character learns her husband lost his good job, she pitches her phone into the lake, goes home and shreds the fancy dress she wore when he was promoted. Can you tell she's a might upset?

Novice Writer Anonymous said...

In my current WiP, my MC is on a training mission in his fighter plane. And he wishes on a shooting star while he's there. So I guess that does do some work of establishing who my MC is. It probably could be better. Sigh.

Kara said...

This is a great point. I've worked on the first line of my book being a hook to catch a reader's attention, but your point about character's is great. It's a first impression of the character that will stick with the reader throughout the book!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Hey, this is great! Thanks for sharing, everyone!

Novice: If your hero is wishing on a star, that may mean he's hopeful person or maybe desperate or in need. If that's a character trait you want to show for your MC and/or it leads to basic problem he's going to have, then go for it!

Cammie said...

What a fantastic post! I hate to admit it, but for the longest time, I thought the first few pages were essentially "filler"- only there to ramp up to one's initial "plot point." How I got this idea, I don't know! It's thanks to posts like yours that I am getting a sense of just how important an intro is, and just how much informational impact it has vis-a-vis the rest of the book.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Cammie: That's so fantastic!

I'm glad I could help!

Check out his book, I just finished it and it's given me a lot of ideas. :)

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