NaNoWriMo #25: A Strategy for Introducing Your Hero

(Click HERE to read a new Peer Review submission — Prologue/hook from a suspense thriller by Nolan Sweetwater.)

Sooner or later you gotta do it.  Your protagonist, your hero, has to make an appearance. 

This can happen in a variety of ways, many of them obvious and vanilla.  Better to do it strategically, in context to a killer hook and your initial set-up chapters, which may or may not involve the hero at all.

Your hero doesn’t need to appear in the first pages

Especially if those come as a Prologue.  It can happen, and often does, but in either case the appearance should be strategic, and not by default.

If the debut does happen in a Prologue, the intro will be out of context (a Prologue is, by definition, out of context), and thus, requires a proper contextual introduction shortly thereafter. 

That said… you need to get your hero on the page soon.  Especially if he she/he is not part of the hook, which isn’t a requirement.  I’d shoot for having the hero in the story by page 10 or 12.  Just make sure the pages that appear before the hero does are strategically inspired..

A Strategy for a More Effective Hero Debut

There are basically two available choices for how you introduce your hero. 

One is to introduce her or him in the midst of a scene that is, in fact, the hook for your story, connected to the main plot line.  In other words, the story’s primary spine kicks right off (not the case withe a Prologue), and the hero is in the middle of it. 

When you do this — which is just fine, by the way — you then use ensuing Part 1 set-up chapters to offer backstory and a current world view, with the goal of establishing stakes (what the hero wins or loses once the First Plot Point puts it all in jeopardy, or at least on hold until the problem is solved).

Or… you can offer up a character-driven hero introduction.  But don’t misunderstand what this means — it’s tough to simply describe your hero outside of any conflict, if it’s just a short bio with no dramatic tension.  Very hard to pull off, and the sign of a newbie writer.

Rather, you can do a character-driven hero intro by showcasing a little mini-drama, a form of short story (most James Bond films do this, they show Bond hunting down a bad guy, but it’s not the story you bought the ticket for, it’s only a character-set-up) that resides outside of the dramatic thread of your story.

This works with or without a preceding Prologue. 

Quick example (longer one to follow): your story is about a divorce.  About a guy who catches his wife cheating on him, then tries to take him to the cleaners.  In your Prologue, we see the wife cheating — the hero isn’ t in the scene, there’s no context yet, but we’re hooked because we know this will get ugly.  We already empathize with a hero we haven’t yet met.  Then, you introduce your hero in the next chapter… but not just by telling us all about him. 

Instead, let’s introduce him, say, on the golf course with his buddies, one of whom has a mild heart attack on the sixth green.  We see our hero respond, get a feel for who he is — quick to act, caring, competent — and this little short story begins and ends right there, doesn’t matter how, as long as we like this guy.  It’s what we learn about the hero within this little introductory short story that is the intro strategy.

If it’s short and powerful, if it’s full of character revelation (from a pre-Plot Point context), it’s a very effective way to introduce your hero.  A way that will position you as a writer who knows how to do this stuff.

When you do this, try to link this little side-show drama (the only one in the entire manuscript, by the way) to your primary story in some way, at least contextually.  In the previous example, the hero would reference his wife, who is a nurse, and how he learned all this from her, with a context of how solid he believes the marriage to be.  He’s a happy guy, a guy who deserves better… about to get blindsided.

But we already know this, thanks to the Prologue.  Which licenses the hero intro to be about him, not the plot.

It’s strategic story sequencing, using mission-driven scene planning. 

Here’s a full blown example of strategic hero introduction.

In the opening chapters of my novel “Bait and Switch,” I introduce the hero (Wolfgang Schmitt, former underwear model, big time player and disgruntled ad exec) after a Prologue and a quick first chapter (which, because it deliberately teases and resides out of context to the story to come, is actually a Prologue by another name). 

Strategy.  Foreshadowing.  Hook, followed by set-up.

It’s short, by the way, so in reading this I’m not asking you to give up your day.

Then in Chapter Two we actually meet Wolf.  The mission of the scene (you should always know the mission of your scenes) is to introduce Wolf and make the reader like him, thus setting the stage to root for him as the story sucks him into darkness.  Notice, too, that the chapter does, in fact, foreshadow the plot to come, both in the opening lines and at the very end.

If you read the Prologue, as suggested in yesterday’s post, you know that Wolf was not part of it.  It was a plot-driven Prologue, followed by a character-driven hero intro.

One more thing you can see in play here, and perhaps can learn from: notice the very last line of this Wolf-intro chapter.  It’s called a “cut and thrust,” which, by intention, opens the door to the subsequent scene in an inviting way.  The more chapters you end this way, transition-wise, the better.  (Start noticing this in the books you read, it’s a mainstream narrative technique.)

Click HERE to read Chapters 2 (very short) and 3 (also short) to see how the hero of this story is introduced… strategically.  With a mission — which is to get to know and like Wolf (the little drama of the story… totally not a part of the plot of the book, other than showing us Wolf’s frame of mind), which is in keeping with the context of all the scenes in Part 1 of a story.  They’re all set-ups.

For what, you ask?  For the First Plot Point.  And, strategically, for the story that follows.

By reading all three sample chapters available here — Prologue, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 — you’ll get a feel for how a story can open with equal attention to plot and character (swap the order if you prefer), and with forward motion… all of it before you have the slightest clue about where this story will really go. 

That won’t happen — and shouldn’t happen — until the First Plot Point.


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4 Responses to NaNoWriMo #25: A Strategy for Introducing Your Hero

  1. spinx

    Before I even start on your article——–>>>take a look at this:(JK Rowlings planning sheet)

    Might very well interest you, if you havn´t come across it already. Just click on the image to enlargen.

  2. Excellent post. I introduce my hero immediately because she narrates the story, but there are still some good tips here.

  3. Marcia

    I have been thoroughly enjoying reading your blogposts in my email and have been taking notes, etc, preparing to start writing on November 1st. I notice there is a website called Are you associated with this website?

  4. Pingback: Brian Wethington » Archive » NaNoWriMo Guide