Getting into the action

by Nicola
(New Zealand)

Question: I'm starting my story off with a description of the life of my main character, showing what she does in an average day and how this is different to a regular teenager (she is homeless and living on her own).

I wanted to know how long it would be appropriate to continue with the introductory, day-to-day life of my character before the action of the story starts. At this point the plan is for her to meet a homeless boy, and the story will develop from there.

My problem is that seeing as the main character is homeless, she doesn't have a home or a base of any sort. She doesn't stick to any particular places, and generally just wanders from place to place without any direction. Also, she is completely on her own with no family of friends. This leaves me with no other characters to introduce at the beginning of the story, and very limited setting to describe.

I'm worried that I may be developing the plot too quickly, but at the same time I don't want to go too long without any action because I know it will get boring for the reader.

I would appreciate your feedback on this, I'm only 15 and have limited experience in writing.
Thanks heaps for everything you guys do, this site is truly amazing and invaluable for a new writer like me.

Answer: I would suggest that you think about your story as a series of events. An "event" means that something happens that changes everything from that point on.

Your first event should show something that happens in your main character's life that changes its direction. Show
her coping with the kind of problem that she often faces, in the way she is used to dealing with such matters. But make it enough of a challenge that is is interesting for the reader. Make the outcome of that event change things or give her something new to cope with. Don't begin with a "typical" day, because nothing is more boring, and the last thing you want to do in Chapter 1 is bore your reader.

The event could be the event in which she meets the homeless boy for the first time, or perhaps sees him doing something that affects her plans. Or perhaps you begin with the event in which a new problem arises in her life, followed by the event in which she meets the boy.

Events have a natural structure. They begin with a situation or problem, build to a turning point, and end with a resolution that sets the stage for the next event.

Don't worry about introducing other characters right away. Just introduce them in the natural course of events as the main character encounters them. Let the reader discover the setting through the main character's eyes as she moves through her world.

Provide exposition (information) when it becomes important to the reader's understanding. For instance, if we see her going to sleep at night in a cardboard box in an ally, the reader will wonder where her parents/home are, so if you haven't explained yet that she is homeless, there's your opportunity.

You're absolutely correct about keeping the action going. Trust your instincts. If the story feels dull to you, it will probably seem dull to someone else.

Best of luck.

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