Monday, August 23, 2010

Showing what you know about him/her in the opening

I'm running a class now on romance plotting, and we're exploring what strengths and goals and conflicts our main character has. And I confidently jotted down that my current hero is an all-powerful nobleman who can get and do anything he wants, and so the heroine kidnapping him is a reversal.

So I was pleased with myself until I realized I hadn't actually SHOWN that in the opening (pre-kidnap) scene. In fact, because I start in the hero's POV, I'm presenting more his insecurity and dread (he has to propose marriage to someone he doesn't love in the morning). He certainly doesn't FEEL all powerful, and that's all that's coming across. (This is actually a kind of good reason for a secondary POV, like that of the porter who guides him up to his theatre box, who is probably respectfully fearful of this powerful guy, not being privy to all his insecure thoughts. Not that I would start a book in secondary POV. I do have standards, however inconvenient.)

So I'm thinking now of how I can modify the opening slightly to show that, however uncertain he feels, as far as the society goes, he's powerful. I already have him interacting with his younger brother, who resents that power, so I might pump that up some, have bro mutter something about him being a bully. I could also have those he encounters in the theatre bow to him like he's really important. He doesn't have to feel that way, as long as others show it in their behavior (power is so much really a function of what others think).

The point of this is not to impress the reader with his ultimate coolness, but rather to set up "power" as something he must give up, something to sacrifice, something that becomes a conflict for him as he falls in love.

... So are there concrete ways in the opening you "set up" some of the character aspects you want to develop, that you've devised in exercises or thinking about this person?


C.L. Gray said...

I write alternate history, so my main problem is not that I’m writing real men, (which I am) but that I’m writing men that my target audience feels they know rather well. Unfortunately, these men have been passed down through the years until they only exist as caricatures. It is the caricature that is known and not the man.

In my first novel, my main character, Stonewall Jackson, is not the strict, humorless, backwards general that many believe he was. Though he was very shy and taciturn, he was only that way with new people and new surroundings. Around people he knew, he was rather amiable and pleasant.

So, in the first scenes, you see a very relaxed Jackson interacting with his family and subordinates. Oh, sure, there is still the strictness that he is famous for, but there is an undercurrent of what I would call the true Jackson. I introduce my vision of Jackson immediately.

In my 2nd novel, I have that same problem. Most people think of my main character, James Longstreet, as a military genius because that is how he has been presented in a series of famous novels. But any careful reading of history will show that Longstreet was rather incompetent when he was given individual command.

Because I feel like I'm going against the grain of the historiography, I've had to reveal my interpretation of Longstreet very slowly. I let the readers see Longstreet’s ambition immediately, since it driven the novel. But I unveil his incompetency in little nuggets until finally it costs him a major victory.

Edittorrent said...

That's interesting! I like the idea that you start with his ambition, because that won't be a big surprise, but SHOW the incompetence as it happens.

Laura K. Curtis said...

Does he know society thinks of him as powerful? How does that impact his insecurity? I would think, if you're starting in his point of view, that you might use something about that to show the situation. I've had characters who specifically straighten spines meet the eyes of people they are afraid of just *because* they're afraid of them and determined not to show it, if that makes sense. Then, of course, the problem is making the insecurity clear without explicitly telling about it.

Edittorrent said...

That's a good point-- he should be aware that he has to live up to his powerful image. Thanks!

Jami Gold said...

This is a great thought! My WIP is written only from the heroine's POV, so we never get the hero's POV. On top of that, as soon as we see him, he's thrown for a loop (by the heroine of course). So I had to show how others respected and deferred to him, and show him gathering his authority despite being flustered to get the idea of the depth of his power across.

Hopefully, it all works. :)

Wes said...

If Lee had followed Longstreet's advice at Gettyburg, Lee might have won, and we'd have real alternative consequences.