Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In the book I'm writing, the first character I introduce dies before the end of the chapter. She is the girlfriend of my hero and is setting up their date before her untimely end.

The hero is also there, preparing in his own way so the chapter itself swaps between the two before the disaster occurs.

When I read it out to the writing group I'm in, one of the others said they didn't like it. Since I'd introduced the female first, he thought she was the hero and found it unsatisfactory that she'd died.

I like it this way because I think it has more of an impact but I'm interested to know. Should I introduce my hero first?

share|improve this question
1  
When you say "swaps between the two," do you mean the point of view? – Stu W Mar 9 at 15:17
    
Yes. The chapter starts with what the girlfriend is doing, then moves over to the hero. It's 3rd person perspective. – Stephen Mar 9 at 15:50
    
One more question: Is this a murder mystery; meaning, is her death the basis for the story (or more of a subplot)? – Stu W Mar 9 at 18:24
    
@StuW Or a fridging? – Kyle Strand Mar 9 at 19:38
    
The Dark Tower, from Stephen King, abused resources like those. I hated those books with all my life. – Thales Pereira Mar 9 at 20:05
up vote 11 down vote accepted

I would say that it depends on how you want to progress with your story.

Every (good) book, or series of books, that I've ever read sets the tone for the rest of the book in the first few pages. Whether that's with a mysterious murder, the establishment of a prophecy/chosen one or world-building and exposition, the rest of the book will continue with the theme that it begins with. This is so that the reader can tell straight away what type of book they are actually reading.

Therefore if you're planning on having your book being filled with shocks to the reader (having the character that they think is the MC die almost immediately is pretty shocking), having unexpected deaths or even just your hero experiencing many tragedies, then this could be a good start to your story. It would set the tone for what to expect later.

However if you're looking to use it simply as a tactic to engage the reader, then yes it would be wrong. People might initially like your book, but if the writing style that they got interested in the first place changes for the rest of the book, then it's unlikely they will stick it out until the end.

This is not to say that you can't have the exact same events occur if your book is not in this style, just establish them differently. Make it obvious who your protagonist is immediately, preferably by changing the POV character at the beginning of the book. Then the unexpected death could set him off on the Hero's Journey to get justice, meaning that even with the same events, the tone of the book is set differently.


More to the point about your story specifically, every Dan Brown book begins with the main character of the prologue dying almost immediately, so it can definitely be done. However the character is generally given very little background or depth; that usually comes later when their murder is being investigated.

This works well as a shock tactic, as it surprises the reader quickly. However, the reason that your reviewer might have disliked your passage is if the extract was exploitative. If you give the female character a lot of background and are setting her up as the protagonist, only to immediately pull the rug out from under the reader unexpectedly, then you're simply making the reader feel stupid. This is a good way to get people to stop reading.

I feel like it is quite similar to Deus Ex Machina, where the writer just puts something in unexpectedly in order to fix a problem. If you're just putting something in fully unexpected and random, such as (who the reader perceives to be) the main character getting hit by a bus, then what is the point in carrying on reading if anyone can die at any time for no reason whatsoever?

If, however, you put in a short passage about her choosing heels that go with her favorite outfit for the date, but one of the heels is loose, and she offhandedly thinks that she will fix it tomorrow as she is already late, followed later by that same heel breaking and making her fall in front of a bus, then you have knowingly set up a tragic event. The reader will feel that such a horrible occurrence, whilst unexpected and easily avoidable (a staple of tragic tales), was at least given a reason for happening.

share|improve this answer

Clive Cussler always started with the Damsel in Distress, never with the hero. This is your book. People will always hate what you've written. Do your job right and some people will love it too, but count on the haters.

So, after listening to what your reviewer said, do you think you've written it correctly?

share|improve this answer

If you want to see how an expert does it, go watch Psycho. Hitchcock lets the audience think they know who the heroine is, but then she takes a shower...

share|improve this answer

Do what you believe is right, but do it for a reason. If going against your critiquers' advice fulfills some essential aspect of your story or creates some effect you want, go ahead. However, if you are doing it just to be different, I suggest you think about why you are breaking that rule, and if you can strengthen the scene so as to give it more impact. Or scrap it all together if you find it does not work out as you had planned. It is up to you. Good luck!

share|improve this answer

As a writer, you write for yourself. Other than generally, you do not write for your audience, for the exact reason this thread illustrates: opinions will vary.

What I mean is that you do obviously have to consider demographic. Bad form to put Nazi zombies in a children's book, for the most part. But you don't write to please your audience, because you'll never succeed. If I say you suck, doesn't matter. If I say you're awesome, doesn't matter.

You write until you're happy. You try whatever you want to try. A clever writer can break any rule. You'll know it's good not when you get a glowing online critique, but when you reread it for the fourth time and think to yourself "wow, that's awesome, I did it!"

If it doesn't make you say wow, it won't make your readers say it either. And if it makes you say wow and some people disagree, %#@% 'em.

share|improve this answer

If the death is meaningful, keep it. It should have a reason for being there. If it impacts the hero's personality or starts a subplot, or if this is a murder mystery or something of the like, I would recommend you keep it. Also, the reason she died should become apparent very soon. Not to actual cause of her death, but why her death was important, and moreover, why it was important to be in her point of view.

But that, of course, is an opinion. This is your piece or writing, so at the end, it's your opinion that matters the most.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.