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I'm writing this fantasy story that focuses on two main characters.

The story was supposed to start with the male protagonist. So, in the first four chapters or so, we get to know his current situation and the world in which the story takes place through his interactions with the people around him.

Then something really bad happens in the fifth to sixth chapters which kicks the plot, getting him almost killed but then saved by the female protagonist, who appears then for the first time.

Now, I’m writing relatively short chapters (500-1500 words), but I still worried about people getting bored and leaving the story before things start happening.

So I wondered, should I maybe start the story with a flash-forward? Showing the female protagonist saving the guy. And then as he recovers, making him remember what lead him there.

Would that make it more interesting? Or would linear story-telling still be better?

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    You do need a dramatic event of some kind to open the story. You also need the motivating/transforming event to occur within the first 10% of the book. Flashforwards are allowed if you can get the logic/feel of it right. But you can have something dramatic go on with the male protagonist if that is how the flow of your story works out. I'd need to understand the whys of the story to say if you need to or if it's better. writing.stackexchange.com/questions/54939/…
    – DWKraus
    Feb 23 at 4:08
  • @DWKraus That about the 10% calls my attention, because I kind of assummed the dramatic event had to happen almost immediately after the start of the story. And well, in the first chapters there is some stuff happening indeed, with the MC being sent away by his father to live with some relatives, whose he grows to love. Only for his father to decide to pull him away from them some years later... But what actually kicks the plot ends up being a complot set for his father which results in his uncle dying and he getting hurt. These ocurrs around the first 8-10k words. Feb 23 at 4:22
  • If it's boring, adding a flash-forward isn't going to fix that. Whether you use one or not, you need to make sure the rest of it is interesting (and if it isn't, cut it). Feb 23 at 10:08
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There's no one right answer to this question --many authors have encountered this challenge and come up with many different solutions. Here are a few:

  • Start in the middle of the story (in media res) and then jump back to the beginning.
  • Drop the first few chapters, and start closer to the real action.
  • Add a mini-conflict to the opening scenes to make them more engaging.
  • Keep in mind that many great books start slowly, and keep things as they are.
  • Keep the current structure, but foreshadow the coming conflicts.
  • As you suggested --jump forward to the action, and then return.

Each solution has advantages and disadvantages. Jumps in time can confuse the reader. They can also make it harder for a reader to get deeply into any given storyline. Too much foreshadowing or foreknowledge can drain energy from the current story. And no amount of flashy techniques can make material that is boring or extraneous more engaging.

Two things that I only recently learned, after a very long time writing, might help you make your decisions.

  1. You don't have to write in the order that the reader will read it. If it helps you to write out of order, do so. You can write backwards, or jumping all over the place, and still present it to the reader chronologically, and vice versa.

  2. Most good writers write a lot of pages and chapters and storylines that don't make it into the final book. Those become part of the backstory. They help make the narrative more rich and three-dimensional, even if they aren't directly present in the book the reader eventually reads. It is okay to do this, it is not wasted work. The things you take out of the book contribute as much as the things you put in.

I actually faced this with my current WIP. I originally wrote it non-chronologically --in fact, the middle of the story was the first part that occurred to me. But I ended up reordering it to make it linear, dropping several flashbacks entirely, and adding a new conflict to the opening chapters. I haven't workshopped the new version yet, but it feels structurally stronger to me.

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It's hard to say actually. If we go by your plan A

So, in the first four chapters or so, we get to know his current situation and the world in which the story takes place through his interactions with the people around him.

You can still make it interesting; I am sure you must have read at least the first chapter of famous fantasy books like Harry Potter and The Hobbit. They all start with your proposed plan. The reason why people didn't get bored was (in my opinion):

  • Harry Potter The mystery of the incidents (via dialogue) and sarcastic dialogue between characters (Harry).
  • The Hobbit Vivid description, readers knew it was some kind of a different world; dialogues (not the number 1 example); an early incident.

You have to be quick with the world description; you have a whole book in which you can reveal the world, you don't have to tell everything in one go. Secondly, you have to bring up some kind of incident (more than one) in those four chapters and bring them early. Remember, the first five pages are most important because that is all a reader will read before he/she decides to buy the book.

Moving on.

So I wondered, should I maybe start the story with a flash-forward? Showing the female protagonist saving the guy. And then as he recovers, making him remember what lead him there.

This can be your great mystery. If you can maintain the flow of thoughts, you can move back and forth via dialogues, some incidents, anything that pleases your pen. This can be a great way to develop the relation between your female and male protagonist (via dialogues). Plus, you can use this as a support to explore both protagonist's world simultaneously.

I have explained how your ideas will work/can work to the best of my knowledge and experience. From here on you can choose.

All the best with your book!

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Dude, I think you could keep this beginning linear, so you can have an introduction where people can understand the context of the story before the action starts. Make the person understand the character so that they can feel something for him, and then like the story. If you still opt for flashback, then create a scheme for your story where those memories come at exactly the right time - when the reader needs this information.

About your fear of people abandoning your story, well, it happens. But that is not why anyone will read your story. In fact, many stories have a slow, boring start, but they are very good.

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