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I'm writing a novel with the following structure (I'm not very sure what's the technical term):

Chapter One (based on the POV of Character C): C sees B for the first time

Chapter Two (based on the POV of Character A): A hears about B for the first time

Chapter Three (based on the POV of Character B)

Chapter Four (based on the POV of Character C)

Chapter Five (based on the POV of Character A)

Chapter Six (based on the POV of Character B)

(and so on)

A is the hero, B is the heroine and C is the girl who is in love with A (the plot isn't that cliched. I'm just trying to simplify here).

I'm still debating whether this is a good idea or not. If this will come out as strange for the reader (but probably, this has been done many times before?)

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Interesting situation. "Is it strange" is hard to answer, but what are your specific concerns about not introducing your protagonist in chapter one? We can address those. –  Neil Fein Apr 30 '13 at 16:49
    
Uncommon but not weird at all. It's not entirely uncommon for stories to start with secondary characters finding and "activating" (freeing, hiring, convincing, blackmailing) the actual protagonist. –  SF. Apr 30 '13 at 23:01
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4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Nope, works fine. Starting from the POV of a minor character to establish the setting is no problem at all; in fact, that can be an interesting prologue, particularly if you're dealing with a mystery. It's sort of a sideways entrance into the story.

As an example, Susan Elia MacNeal has done this with all the books in her Maggie Hope mysteries. Mr. Churchill's Secretary and Princess Elizabeth's Spy both open with secondary or cameo characters and a murder. Book three, His Majesty's Hope, opens with cameo characters having a conversation.

In all three novels, the protagonist Maggie doesn't appear in the prologue — none of the main characters do. None of the books read strangely to me for it.

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Introducing the protagonist later in the book is generally done when there's a large cast involved. In a situation like this, who the reader should consider the "main" character is less important.

While there are no rules about any of this, it's generally a good idea for the reader to be able to identify with the protagonist in some way. And making the opening pages easy to relate to is important. I'd be more concerned with juggling the multiple viewpoints than bringing in the main character late. Are you setting this up in third person with follow-along points of view, or multiple first-person viewpoints? The latter is trickier to pull off well, but possible with very distinctive narrator styles.

In a situation where the main character won't be identified up-front, you could have the first chapter be more obviously a scene-setting prologue to the action of the book. Alternately, maybe you can plant the seeds of the protagonist in the early pages, perhaps by mentioning the character. Since the first chapter POV character is in love with your protagonist, that shouldn't be hard.

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Introducing your story like this is no problem, however if C is normally unrelated to the story you may consider the first chapter not being a de facto chapter and call it an introduction/prologue instead. It is a common characteristic of an introduction to introduce the plot via a side character. Normally this is a very short chapter comprising of one short scene. If your chapter falls into this description you may want to consider making it an Introduction/prologue.

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You get certain liberties with the first chapter. Actually, I've seen this in a number of good published books. So, no, it's not odd.

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