Chapter 1: Or Why Your Character Can’t Do Something Stupid Right Away

Rae Carson’s characters are smart.

Every writer knows that their first chapter is vital.  It is where you must:

  • Introduce the Character
  • Get the Story Moving
  • Hook the Reader

Do you see what isn’t there?  The list does not include:

  • Insult the reader’s intelligence
  • Have the character do something too stupid to survive

Recently, I started reading a novel that opens with a serial killer having to abandon a half-dead victim.  You know he’s out there somewhere.  Who could he be?

Enter the main character.  She is at home alone when someone knocks on the door.  She answers the door and finds a bloody man holding a knife.  She ends up letting him inside because she couldn’t leave her dog outside with a potential maniac.

Seriously?  I closed the book.  For days, I glared at it every time I walked past.  Finally, I dropped it back into the library bag and thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t paid for it.  What I didn’t do is read one more word.

Do not have your main character do something incredibly stupid just to move your story forward.   Repeat after me — stupid is not a solution.

This doesn’t mean your character will always make the right choice or always make a smart choice.  Read Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Crown of Embers.  In the first book, one character is betrayed by another who is certain, until it is too late, that he is making the right choice.  The main character is often caught between one bad choice and another, one hard choice and an awful choice.  But Carson makes it believable.  Her characters may be ill-informed or too biased to make good choices, but they are never stupid.

Stupid is not a solution.


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