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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Chapters Without MC Dilema

   
Author Topic: Chapters Without MC Dilema
YNRedef
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A close friend of mine was reading and critiquing the first four chapters my novel. My friend said that he disliked the fact that the fourth chapter does not include the main character. The main character is not there because he is in a different mission at that time. It's a valid point. That chapter "follows" a teacher.

My question: Is it better to either introduce a new character who is followed (and include the entire action scene) or fit in (rather well too) a flash back with less of the action scene?

Does anyone faced this type of challenge before? Can anyone send me towards the right direction?

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extrinsic
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A secondary viewpoint character when the central character or protagonist isn't in the scene or chapter, it's a best practice to correlate the central dramatic complication facing the protagonist to every scene. Like the secondary character in some way influences the protagonist's outcome.

If the protagonist and the secondary character aren't in contact, they should come up close and personal before the ending. It's like the preposition to avoid coincidence principle of Chekhov's Gun: If a gun is in an opening act, it better be fired by the final act. Conversely, if a gun is fired in a final act, it better be prepositioned in an earlier act.

If the "teacher's" mission influences the protagonist's dramatic struggle and outcome, I'd say you're in the ballpark.

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MAP
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Sometimes a POV change too early in the story (before I am completely invested) makes me stop reading the story.

Usually it is because it feels like a second start. And starting a novel is a little more work than just continuing on. So unless I'm totally into the story, I may not want to invest in a second start.

I'm not sure if this is the problem, but it might be worth thinking about.

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MartinV
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quote:
Sometimes a POV change too early in the story (before I am completely invested) makes me stop reading the story.
That's exactly what I encountered in a story I picked up on Smashwords not long ago. I thought the author was a solid professional but then I realized he's closer to the start than I. Ironically, I got charmed by his cover which he does himself. I was tempted to send him an e-mail, telling him maybe he should do covers full-time.
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Robert Nowall
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Seems an odd thing to object to just on those grounds...does the change of viewpoint scene convey important information for story purposes? do any introduced characters reoccur later in the story?
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wise
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My novel has two opposing groups of people. Or rather, they will be opposing each other later on, which I think will be apparent to the reader in the early chapters. I use the first chapter to introduce two of the opposing characters in separate vignettes, and starting in Ch. 2 I begin introducing other characters on each "side". Future chapters then tell parallel tales and set up tension between the two sides, so that when they do come in contact with each other about half-way through the book, it'll be a really big deal.

I don't know if this format will work, but in a book with lots of secondary characters and two opposing main characters, it seemed like the only way to go. I'm taking my cue from Tom Clancy, who jumps back and forth between characters and intertwines the plot around them. As a reader, I give the author the benefit of the doubt. If he introduces a new character in a new setting, I'm assuming he has a plan and the connection will be made at some point. Do what is right for your story, but make sure you address Robert's questions and I think you'll be fine.

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genevive42
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POV switch is fine. Just make sure your second pov is as interesting as your first and that it's important to the plot. If the second pov has thier own arc in the story, it's even better. Don't shift pov just for info dump reasons. Make it matter.
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MattLeo
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Hmm. I wonder if the issue isn't timing.

It's most common for novels to follow a single POV, sometimes with occasional short supplementary scenes. But it's also quite common to have two or more characters who alternate POV scenes throughout the story. But I think if a reader has gone a significant way into the book and thinks this is a single POV story, he may feel like the story has taken a sudden turn off the rails. It's the violation of expectation calling unwanted attention to the POV shift.

This is almost like approaching head hopping from the other side. Change POV too quickly, and it feels weird. But suddenly shift POV after we've been condition to expect no shifts feels weird too.

You've set yourself a tricky storytelling problem with the focus shifting unexpectedly from A to B. I'd say you have a number of options here.

  1. Introduce scenes with B's POV no later than the first scene of chapter 2.
  2. Compress the chapter from B's POV so it feels parenthetical rather than a change of direction.
  3. Compress or truncate the first three chapters so we get to B's chapter quicker.
  4. Move B's scenes later in the book to a distinctly labeled section.
  5. Eliminate B's scenes altogether.
  6. Leave things as they are and hope readers will adjust.
  7. Introduce some kind of device which makes the shift of POV welcome (what extrinsic said, I think).

I think a device is probably ideal. This could be raising some question in the reader's mind that is answered by the shift to B. For example suppose at the end of chapter 3 the reader suddenly realizes that teacher B must have discovered that student A was raiding his potions cabinet. The question would immediately arise, "What did B do about that?" Then you have chapter 4 start out being very, very clear that we're seeing exactly what happened through B's eyes.

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micmcd
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I don't see why changing viewpoints early in a novel is a big deal. The only difficulty might be that you aren't doing it enough - in the sense that if the first three chapters were from A's POV, the reader thinks that all chapter are A, and then you surprised him with a switch to B.

One of my books routinely switches POV's, rarely (perhaps never) staying the same from one chapter to the next. It helps to have a small number of viewpoint characters (out of a cast of dozens, perhaps 6 were POV characters), and it's not confusing so long as you establish in the first sentence whose POV you're using.

Did anybody read Game of Thrones? That worked great, and he even used the incredibly subtle technique of having every chapter's "title" be the name (or clever description) of the POV character.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
I think a device is probably ideal. This could be raising some question in the reader's mind that is answered by the shift to B. For example suppose at the end of chapter 3 the reader suddenly realizes that teacher B must have discovered that student A was raiding his potions cabinet. The question would immediately arise, "What did B do about that?" Then you have chapter 4 start out being very, very clear that we're seeing exactly what happened through B's eyes.

And that writing craft device, generally, as MattLeo illustrates, is transition writing mode. Setup that transports readers and reader curiosity from viewpoint to viewpoint, time to time, place to place, situation to situation, and complication to complication.
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YNRedef
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Wow! thanks for all of the advice!
all of you were very helpful with this challenge.
im not exactly sure yet what im going to do yet,
but I have a closer feeling as to what I'm thinking.

Robert Nowall: the information they receive from this mission leaves the main character suspicious and confused. The main character therefore seeks more information. The more he finds out, the less he likes (and that is vital for the story). But, that teacher herself only becomes more of a major character later into the series.

MattLeo: If I understand correctly, the seven steps are too much for my story. Especially steps 5 and 6. They don't work so well with what's going on. Also, the teacher is too minor of a character right now to have her own POV. But, i did have a strong option before to utilize step 7 (which Extrinsic also mentioned).

Micmed: we'll see what works out the best.

Thanks everyone for all of the advice! I was really surprised, delighted, and flatter that I received so many posts!

[ August 09, 2012, 02:43 PM: Message edited by: YNRedef ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Please, if you are going to switch point of view to another character, don't do it after a cliff-hanger for the original character. That will tend to make readers skip the chapters (or scenes) with the new character in order to find out what happened after the cliff-hanger. And some readers may never go back. (Which is why, as genevive42 said, you need to make sure both characters are interesting, equally interesting.)
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axeminister
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Let me suggest - no.

Now let me throw in caveats. As Extrinsic said early on, if chapter four directly relates to the other chapters, and has a bearing on the MC, then OK. In fantasy, one person looks for the magical sword, while the other looks for the magical hilt.

Also consider page count. If your chapters are 15 pages long, then you're throwing me into a bit character's POV, then back to the MC, never to see the bit character until book two, (or just see their POV again) then no, I won't appreciate the aside.

My novel has 3 POV characters. We spend the first three chapters with character one, (the good guy) A word count reveals chapter 4 begins 2039 words into the story. (I have short chapters.)

We spend one intense chapter with the bad guy, (922 words.) then switch back to the good guy. This switching goes on in varying chapter(s) lengths until page 52 when the third gets her first POV chapter.

This may not go over well with people. However, I spend some time introducing character 3 through the eyes of character one and two (5050 words into the story) before she gets her first POV chapter, (8900 words in) so she isn't dropped out of the sky onto the reader. We've already got two perspectives/impressions of her before we get in her head.

Not sure any of that helps, I mean, it's not like my book is out there, a model of success, but my early critters haven't said a word about the POV switches. Which is why I mention the numbers.

Axe

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History
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When a lad, I found The Two Towers and The Return of The King frustrating in that halfway through each, the story completely changes to a new setting and a different set of characters!
That could never work.

And yet...

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob [Smile]

P.S. If you are alternating between main characters fairly frequently (I concur with Matt that I find this is best with chapter to chapter changes in POV--until your characters come together), then cliffhangers can work (in my humble opinion). They entice me to read through the next chapter(s) to find out what will happen next.

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Robert Nowall
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You can always skip to the end and read that. I admit freely I did that when I got my copy of The Return of the King, but I can also admit freely that, without reading what went before---which I did right after---the ending meant little to me. (It wasn't easy to find, either, because I didn't realize how vast the appendices would be...)
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History
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In the 1960's when, as a boy, I first saw the Ballantine Books edition of The Return of the King. I was attracted by the Barbara Remington cover (http://mysite.verizon.net/aznirb/mtr/oop/bb_return.jpg)--though I had yet to ever read a book of fantasy...

"Hmm. 'The Return of the King'," I said, picking it up.

I turned to the last page and read the last line: "Well, I'm back."

Shaking my head, I put the book back. "That's just stupid."

[Wink]

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob
(whose Tolkien collection has cost thousands, as of this date, and counting).

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JoBird
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This:

quote:
"Hmm. 'The Return of the King'," I said, picking it up.

I turned to the last page and read the last line: "Well, I'm back."

Shaking my head, I put the book back. "That's just stupid."

is hilarious.

It had me laughing for about five minutes straight.

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wise
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I laughed, too!

(Of course he came back, otherwise the title would be wrong. Of course, it was Sam who said that, not the king, but you wouldn't have known that at the time...)

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Robert Nowall
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Well, some lines in the foreword let the readers know that several characters survived everything that comes in the narrative...something that went right over my head when I read it the first time.
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History
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Glad to provide you some laughs. [Smile]

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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hoptoad
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History! That's a fantastic story.
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