I'm writing a war sci-fi novel. At the start of the novel, my MC really wants to get into a particular unit, let's call it Space-Marines. His struggle through the training serves to showcase his high motivation, the fact that the soldiers are prepared as well as they can possibly be before being sent off, it lets me set up the character as he was before combat, and more. This later allows me to go on and do to the character everything war can do to a man.

The trouble is, while during training the MC has a clear goal, and struggles to attain it, his success is a foregone conclusion: of course he'll end up in the unit he wants. Otherwise, there won't be a story.

How do I avoid this first part becoming boring to the reader due to its foregone conclusion?

I specifically do not want to just skip it and start, like All Quiet on the Western Front, with the soldiers already at the front and jaded. I want to show "the boy next door" getting to that point.


Add an additional point of uncertainty.

"Will the story progress" is not an interesting stakes. But nothing's keeping you from adding other stakes that will grip the reader. Consider, for example:

  • Is MC willing to play dirty to secure his place?
  • Can MC keep his idealism and enthusiasm as he progresses?
  • How will things play out between MC and:
    • His bitter rival?
    • His love interest?
    • His less-capable buddy?
  • Who is the MCs shadowy sponsor, who keeps quietly getting him out of trouble?
  • Why does this one person seem hell-bent on making MC flunk out?
  • Why won't any of the commanders talk about (MYSTERIOUS SUBJECT)?

...And so on. One or two of these will make promises to the reader, that they can look forward to see paying off, and they give your story a much clearer shape.

  • Came here to find an answer like this. The perfect example for me would be Ender's Game, who reunite nearly all of these tropes. Having a foregone conclusion does not mean that the story will be boring. – kikirex Apr 29 '18 at 20:53

Add another dimension to the conflict so it is not a simple will he/won't he. There is something (a crutch, a flaw) he is unwilling to give up before he can move to the next stage.

Committing to Space Marines means giving up another dream, or it means compromising an important relationship. His goal is to have it all, but he only gets half.

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    Another method would be to add specificity to his target. He really wants to get into the Space Marine bug hunter division, but ends up in the Space Marine alien bomb division instead. Or he wants him and his buddy to get in, and only he succeeds. – Arcanist Lupus Apr 29 '18 at 4:45

There are many stories where after reading the first few pages we can easily predict how it will end and be right 90% of the time. When I read a murder mystery, I'm pretty sure that in the end the brilliant detective is going to solve the crime. When I see a romantic comedy, I'm pretty sure that in the end the hero and heroine are going to end up together. When I see a monster movie, I'm pretty sure that in the end the monster will be destroyed ... probably followed by some hint that he isn't really gone for good. Etc. Anyone who reads one of these formula stories and seriously wonders if the hero and heroine are going to end up together, etc, no doubt finds the world a place filled with wonder and mystery.

The trick is to make the process interesting. It's not, "does the detective solve the crime?" In many cases it's not even, "who committed the crime?" It's often "how does he do it?"

Make the journey getting there interesting. If you can, dangle just the possibility that the hero WON'T win. (And I'm suddenly reminded of a book I read once about a private detective helping a beautiful young woman, and at the end he says to her, "You know, we've spent a lot of time together working on this case, and I was just wondering ..." "Yes?" she says. "Would you ... could you ..." he stammers. "Yes?" she repeats. "Please get off my back." And he walks away.)


If you are so sure the reader is going to be sure what happens, then you need to make the journey interesting. There are plenty of stories in which everyone knows what's going to happen and enjoys it anyways because the journey is interesting (superhero movies, romance, some mystery stories, etc.).

You could lead the rider away from the truth that he will succeed. Maybe he gets rejected, hurts himself badly, or gets another job. I don't think this is the approach you want to take.

The other approach is to make the journey more interesting. You can start by making the training operations interesting and engage the reader there. You can also use this time to build relationships between characters that will last throughout the novel. See Ender's game for a good example of interesting training. One last idea is to use the time to do some worldbuilding and explain the galaxy via dialogue and discussion between character.


The answers you have are very good and I haven't read Starship Troopers so this answer may be redundant. There is overlap here with other answers.**

  1. You could make the method of his success dark, and only the reader knows. Perhaps he was kicked out of the military but that order went missing. Like the way Kiefer Sutherland's character became president in Designated Survivor.


Spoiler: He'd been fired as HUD secretary but no one else yet knew, and when the rest of the cabinet was killed he was next in line to be CIC. His moral choice was whether to be up front about circumstance (He was supposed to be fired), or remain in the presidency out of duty to country. This allowed for tension later when it came out that he shouldn't be president in the first place.

  1. You could make it humorous. For example a cup of tea seems to be in every book, but I've seen a case where the author went to great pains, threatening the fourth wall though not breaking it, to spend an entire paragraph about why tea is an excellent beverage suited to all occasions and definitely worth drinking. Along these lines, you could have some other foregone conclusion within your world be a talking point for your characters, make some humorous observations about foregone certainties, play with it.

  2. You could have him fail. He fails. Just make him fail. he doesn't get in, he becomes a boozer, but he has some amazing skill and the marines realize he's the only man for the job and they come to beg him to join the unit.

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    I think the spoiler tag is just a blockquote but with an ! like >!. I tried to edit it, but I couldn't figure it out. Not sure what the problem was. Also, nice answer. – White Eagle Apr 29 '18 at 18:55

You can make it so the MC doesn't get everything he wants, and at the end of the setup may get into the unit of his choice, but loses something else along the way.

  • Give him a friend whose goal is the same, but washes out (or dies).

  • Give him a girlfriend that leaves him.

  • Give him a parent he loves that dies, and he misses the funeral because if he does go, he won't be able to get into the unit he wants.

  • Make him less super-competent, not the top of the class. The reader will think he is on the bubble and will squeak by and get in, but he doesn't. He gets rejected from the unit. But then another recruit that did make it in chooses to drop out, because this other super-competent recruit's lifelong buddy did not get in the special unit with him, and he is a loyal friend that promised they'd serve together. That opens a slot for our guy, and he takes it, but feels illegitimate, dead bottom of the elite unit. Heavily doubted by those that made it on the first cut. And now he has something to prove.


Read Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein.

  1. Not every recruit makes it through training or into the unit they wanted.

  2. The training is fun to read in itself.

  3. The training narrative serves to relate the backstory for the later battle.

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