Introducing a protagonists with no love

by Cecilia Smith
(Chicago)

Question: I'm writing about a young woman who is recovering from an ordeal that has made her mentally ill and unstable for years. She also struggles on how to make a connection with her 8 year old daughter now that she's doing better. So this is a story that switches back between time frames. It's also told in her voice.


My problem is how and when to introduce her. I have the prologue set in the present talking about the fact she had to work through her illness. As well as where her and her daughter stand, why and her wish to improve that. My first chapter is in the past showing the event that caused her to become ill. The second chapter is about her recovering from said event. And the third gets into background once she's released from the hospital.

I've had family and friends read most of the story they loved it and suggested improvements. I went a step further and showed some people on a forum (ages 13+) the prologue and first chapter to see if the beginning was engaging enough and what age group it would target. People liked the plot but there were complaints about the fact that they didn't know the protagonist and weren't sure if they should care about her situation (they also didn't care for her improper diction). My protagonist isn't particularly lovable anyway, it's more like she's a normal teen who has had troubles. She has personality yet isn't spectacular. Her situation is what holds interest.

So I'm wondering should I somehow put her intro first (this would change the feel I want to have in the beginning though), should I put out more to read, and will that matter since the character isn't spectacular herself. Maybe my main question is can a story be decent if you can't find love for the protagonist. To let you know what I'm writing is a slice of life and suspense piece.

Answer: Obviously I haven't read the manuscript, so I'm taking a shot in near darkness.

If the story is told in the mother's voice, then you are automatically introducing her on the first page. She can be crude, brash, uneducated - but you want her voice
to also be authentic and interesting.

The concern I have is that you describe the prologue as being rather static - a discussion of the current situation. This kind of preamble tends not to grab readers.

I would suggest you play with having the prologue present a significant event (turning point) in the story. One possibility would be to begin with an event in which the daughter rejects the mother. This could be a moment of crisis that would get the reader immediately empathizing with the mother and her situation, as well as curious about how the relationship could have become so bad and why the mother appears somewhat damaged. Showing a character in action at a significant moment is often the best way to introduce her. You can always fill in her backstory as you go along. It may be better to show her struggle to recover later on as well.

Of course, I'm assuming here that the mother's effort to create a loving relationship with her daughter is a crucial plotline.

After the prologue (or maybe it would be Chapter 1), you can jump back in time to the tragic event in the mother's past (Was she raped at a young age, resulting in a pregnancy as well as mental breakdown? Just a wild guess.)

I'm also guessing that the overall Story Goal is to find love? Whether or not that goal is met is up to you, of course. There's nothing wrong with writing a tragedy, though you may need to know what thematic message you want to convey. Not every story need to be about a triumph over adversity. Sometimes a story can be an indictment of injustice.

The tricky part is that tragedies are usually about people who make bad choices and suffer the consequences. Here, you seem to be writing about someone who suffers consequences, but they are not her fault. (Unless I'm way off base.)

Of course, she could choose to give up her relationship with her daughter at the climax in order to benefit her daughter in some way - which would make it an act of love, but one of giving, not receiving. That would be more of a personal triumph story than a tragedy. Just a thought.

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Jul 31, 2012
Thank you!
by: Cecilia Smith

I suppose my explanation was a bit rough. When I mention love I meant if the reader can't find love for the character. But yeah the whole thing is her pregnancy, the long visits to hospitals/behavior modification centers, psychiatry visits, interactions w/ the daughter and others in her life and the her coming to remember/deal with what happened years back. I didn't write it as a full tragedy piece more so one about moving on from tragedies in life. But yeah you're pretty spot on about the plot. It may be a more common one but I'm hoping to make it stand out with way I write it,the graphic description and raw feeling that's going into it. Thanks for the advice I'm still working out some of the kinks in the story. People say I have great ideas, and an interesting take on things but it always needs a bit of smoothing out.

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