How long before the plot can begin?
I'm planning a novel for 2012's NaNoWriMo, and I have the basic premise and synopsis in place. The novel's prologue will be the hook for the reader, but my question is this: how much can I write before I introduce my 'first plot point'? I have quite a few things to say before a certain event happens (such as the culture, events leading up to that point, etc.) and I'm wondering how long it will take before readers will become bored? Or is it a matter of how well it is written?
Also, once the event occurs, my protagonist has a dilemma of whether to go on a journey or not. Does this count as introducing the first plot point and, pardon the expression, 'get the ball rolling'? Any help on this would be greatly appreciated. Answer:
If possible, start the plot on the first page.
By that I mean, start with an event. It doesn't have to be the big inciting event of the overall plot. It could be an event that shows who the main character is and how he/she copes with problems. It could be a similar event depicting the impact character, or an event establishing their relationship. But it should be an irreversible change that gives your character(s) a new purpose or sends them in a new direction. In other words, something to
engage the reader right away as well as get the ball rolling.
Preferably, it should be an event with a lot of emotion, a sympathetic or charming point-of-view character, and a little mystery.
Ditto for your prologue, which should also be an event (usually it's the first event of the overall throughline, in which case your first chapter should probably introduce the main character).
All the events and pages that lead up to your first big event are important for getting the reader to commit to reading the rest of the book.
The cultural background should be presented a little bit at a time, and only as needed.
Try to avoid long stretches of material that the readers are likely to skip over - the "boring" bits such as background, description, technical details, etc. Your cultural material may be in this category.
If you lead with this exposition, the reader may decide the book is boring and toss it aside. If you give more than a paragraph or two of this material at a time, the reader may decide the book is boring and toss it aside.
Of course, this varies a little with different genres (some fantasy readers like a lot of background) but not too much.
Also, keep in mind these are not hard and fast rules, just guidelines that have proven effective for many other writers.