Can I switch MCs after 3 chapters? And Would that need 2 plots?

by claudia

Question: Here´s another question that´s been eating my insides. I am confident that you will come up with a great answer, for you are truly awesome!

My story´s main theme is - family/blood ties and passing the torch.

It begins with one of my MCs. He is the father--we see his life, his son has just been born and then BAM, something happens that changes his life drastically and he disappears after 3 chapters...We switch to 13 years later--in comes his son, who is actually the real MC ( it´s a tween novel). Each one of these characters has an agenda--the boy´s agenda is to find out what happened to his father, and to understand who he is as a part of his family--but I´m interested in showing his father at the beginning because I want the reader to have mixed feeling about him--just as the boy it ok to do this? And--would I then have to work with 2 plot lines, one for each character? The father comes back at the end thanks to the son´s unraveling of the mystery.

I ask because many people have said that you should always begin your novel with whoever will be the MC. Everyone has said that they like the first three chapters but that they begin to fall in love with the father and they don't like the fact that he disappears...because the rule states that...bla...bla...bla...

Thanks in advance!

Answer: I don't think you should be overly concerned with following the "rules," but it is true that readers will tend to become attached to a character's point of view, especially if that is the only point of view they have known for the first three chapters. They will assume this is the main character.

This can be especially risky with YA books, because teens like to read about characters who are like them or perhaps slightly older. So you could have some readers put the book down if they don't like the father character and others who like the father and are disappointed when he disappears.

Nonetheless, the plot structure you are following is quite often done successfully. Essentially, I assume, you are starting with the first signpost in the overall throughline (OSS1), which involves the father, and following this with the first signpost of the main character throughline (MCS1), which introduces the son.

To take a well-known example, the first Star Wars film works this way. It begins in the point of view of the droids and R2D2's mission to deliver the stolen plans. Luke Skywalker only enters the story after many scenes.

So one option is to simply keep things the way they are.

Another option: Sometimes writers will put the OSS1 into a prologue, in order to reassure the reader that the story has not properly begun yet. Chapter 1 then begins with the MCS1. This too can be a little problematic. Some readers hate prologues and skip them. (But perhaps that's okay. They can always go back later.)

A third approach is to change the order of the story telling. For instance, you could begin with the main character's point of view - make Chapter 1 about the MCS1. Then, in Chapter 2 or later, present the OSS1 as a flashback - or perhaps as a series of flashbacks interwoven with the rest of the story.

Of course (because you can never please everyone), some people don't like flashbacks. So writers have resorted to alternative ways to bring the OSS1 in, such as diaries, videos, dreams, or having a character tell what happened from memory. In some stories, the telling of OSS1 doesn't happen until the end of the story. It's kept a mystery until then.

The bottom line is that you have to trust your feelings on this. Play with the possibilities in your mind and see which one moves you more emotionally. Does it work if you begin with the main character?

You can also try writing different versions and inviting people to tell you which one they like best (keeping in mind that one person's opinion is just one person's opinion).

Comments for Can I switch MCs after 3 chapters? And Would that need 2 plots?

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Jul 28, 2012
Great insight
by: Anonymous

Once again, your answer is on time and enlightening. i hadn´t considered the Star Wars example, but now that yoou mention it, it makes me feel better! I was also thinking about Harry Potter and how the 1st chapter is not from his POV.

About the signposts: that would mean having to present the MC within those 3 chapters so that the story of both characters moves along at the same time. Is that what you mean?

I like that idea. Although the prologue is appealing. I´ll have to work on this a little more.

Jul 28, 2012
by: Glen

What I meant was that you might start Chapter 1 with the main character's story and then tell the backstory concerning the father through flashbacks or by some other means.

To use Star Wars as an example again, the start of the conflict between Obi wan Kenobi and Darth Vader is not shown at the beginning of the film, even though is the first event in the story chronologically. Instead, Obi wan simply tells Luke about it much later on.

Other ways Lucas might have introduced this event include a flashback (showing Obi wan's memory) or having Luke stumble across his father's video diary, or just cutting to a scene from the past, perhaps with the words "15 years earlier" flashed across the screen.

You don't have to tell a story chronologically. You can start anywhere and fill in the past later.

Jul 30, 2012
Going with the first option
by: Claudia

Ok, i see... I´ve been considering which way to go and I think I´ll be going with the first option--using a double set up of throughtlines. It seems to be the best option to tell the story. And I´ll be using the hero´s journey for the MC.

Evn though I´m keeping them as beginning chapters, it will read as a sort of prologue or intro to the whole story.

Thanks for helping me clarify.

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