Character Introduction Order

by A Jehrum Aranda

Question: I've been having trouble with the order in which I introduce the main characters in my story. I know that typically you want to introduce the main character, protagonist, and impact character in the first few pages and introduce their personalities in colorful and interesting ways to keep the reader's attention. I, however, introduce my main character/protagonist in the first chapter under the name of another character and don't introduce the impact character until the second chapter and am wondering if that will present a problem for the reader and cause them to loose interest early on.

For a bit of background on how that plays into the story; my main character is an agent working for the government and infiltrates a mercenary group prior to the start of the story. The reader starts the story in the middle of one of this mercenary group's operations to hijack a government star ship and is introduced first to the groups leader, who only plays minor roles later in the story. The reader thinks the main character is working for this leader at first, but halfway into the chapter finds out she is actually working to undermine the leader's operation. Her main partner in this operation is caught early on and injured resulting in him not playing any major roles later in the story. After completing this mission, the main character in chapter two gets a new partner who plays the role of impact character due to several personality traits he has that clash with her's. The main character's main personality is of the typical heroine working for the common good and is incredibly serious and focused on her assignments. The impact character, on the other hand, also works for the common good, but doesn't really take the job seriously, is very flirtatiousness, fun loving, and comedic.

So I have two main problems with this layout. First, although the main character may have a personality that is sort of generic and maybe boring, I'm sure I can make it interesting because of my impact character's personality. The problem is he isn't introduced until the second chapter and the reader may still be unsure who the main character is at that point because she was playing the role of someone else in the previous chapter. The other problem that I can see that may arise is all the characters I introduced in the first chapter who won't play many important roles later in the story. For example, the reader may at first think the leader of the mercenary group is the main character, but later finds out it turns out to be the side character pretending to work for him. Will this confuse the reader and if it does, will that be a good thing or something that causes them to loose interest early on? Should I introduce these characters differently or in a different order or is there a way I can make this layout work?

Answer: There's nothing wrong with introducing your main character in the first chapter and the impact character in the second. But there is a problem with a main character who is "generic" and "boring." You want your reader to fall in love with the main character from the beginning - her particular outlook on the world, her unique skills, her weaknesses, her inner problem, her personality. The first chapter should establish who she is as a unique person. Then you can present the impact character in chapter two as her complete opposite who can make her rethink who she is.

Also, there should be no confusion who the main character is in chapter one, because the main character will be the only character whose thoughts and feelings the reader is privy to (assuming you are using 3rd person, limited narration), and will be the character the story follows.

Comments for Character Introduction Order

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Mar 16, 2013
Shifting the Focus
by: Jehrum

Thanks for the timely response! I think I can restructure the first chapter in such a way to follow the main character earlier (like on page 2 rather than page 10) without changing the twists too much and focus less on the first antagonist.

As far as my main character, I must admit I've had some trouble developing her personality because the main plot and most of the other characters are already well developed. But I've gotten some good ideas reading through some of the other writers questions, as well as your answers and character guides, and think I can make her more real without taking too much away from the main plot. Thanks for your help!

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