Oct 22 2008
Unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise, I’d say the start of chapter 2 at the very latest.
- If the main character doesn’t show up quickly, readers will wonder what’s going on. They will conclude very quickly that the story isn’t going anywhere. (“Next!”)
- Readers typically assume that the first character introduced is the main character. If your first chapter is narrated by Jane, you will disorient readers when you reveal that Mike is actually the main character. The readers that really liked Jane will be the most displeased. This is especially dangerous when the characters don’t fit into the same audience demographics. For example, the readers that liked a story about a female, upper-class detective may not be the same readers that want to read about Mike, her hardbitten partner.
- When a story waits to introduce the main character, it usually suggests that the first chapter is just backstory. For example, instead of starting with the hero in chapter 1, a fantasy story might spend a chapter with his parents to describe the hero’s family history. Eww. That’s typically pretty ineffective because the parents are mostly a distraction from the story: the hero and what he sets out to accomplish. To quote another author, “if your backstory is more interesting than your current era, you’re writing the wrong story.”