QUESTION: Should the protagonist be introduced on the first page?
ANSWER: Experienced writers often introduce the protagonist on the first page. To create empathy for the hero, get readers interested in him as close to the beginning of the story as possible. There are exceptions. Some writers choose to introduce the antagonist first. Although it’s less common, minor characters can appear in prologues and framing devices.
There are disadvantages to delaying the protagonist’s introduction. Readers like to experience a story through the eyes of one character and go on an emotional journey with that character. If the first character the reader meets is not the protagonist, the reader might feel disoriented and stop reading. It’s important to show a clear connection between the first character introduced and the protagonist in cases when the story opens with a character other than the protagonist.
In The Terminator, the nemesis (a cyborg from the future) appears first. This technique works because a powerful antagonist creates anticipation and concern for the protagonist (a waitress named Sarah Connor). While this example is from film, writers of thrillers often begin novels in a similar fashion.
Still, one of the chief reasons agents pass on manuscripts is a lack of empathy for the protagonist. To prevent this problem, show what makes the main character tick pronto. Convey the protagonist’s essence. A good opening scene sums up who the character is at his core using actions. The protagonist should show his defining qualities (admirable traits, serious flaws) through his behavior. While there are exceptions to nearly all writing guidelines, new writers benefit from using proven methods. Authors rarely go wrong by introducing the protagonist first.
Until next time,
Write something you love! — Joanne