I've been planning this post for just about a week now, reflecting on a challenge I'm facing in the introduction of my MC in Sublimation, but in the mean time Anne R. Allen posting up a concise list of important points about introducing your protagonist. While I don't think developed writers (even unpublished ones) need necessarily adhere to this list religiously, it's a great starting point for writers who are still in the early stages of learning their craft and a good place to start thinking about some important questions.
I'd like to focus on something that doesn't figure on Allen's list: the importance of starting your MC out from a position of strength.
This has been a huge struggle for me with Sublimation, but it is a challenge that can apply to stories of many different genres. In my case, it's not divulging any big secret to say that one character focus of Sublimation is the struggle of Alec Smith, consummate man-in-control-of-every-situation, as he gets caught up in situation over which he finds himself powerless. It's a universal human story, and I'll keep the details mostly to myself for now.
Here's the challenge. This arc develops from position A (Alec in control) to position B (Alec powerless) to position C (however the plot resolves). The problems is that position A is really not very interesting and really doesn't figure into the story much at all. After much struggling, I ended up starting with the slope down to position B, with flashbacks and implications covering position A. That way the story starts off where things are interesting but the character development can still be understood.
Sounds reasonable, and it doesn't read that badly.
Unfortunately, I've realized that the reader has no emotional investment in position A. They don't see a strong character become weak. They see a weak character remembering when he was once strong. For some stories, that can be okay -- but those are different stories, and typically only take place in the advanced stages of position B.
I'm working out a way to correct this in Sublimation, but I'm sharing this not so much to talk about my book as to call attention to this challenge for other writers. In most cases, especially if you want sympathy or empathy with your characters, you need to start them out in a position of strength, and then tear them down. It does not need to occupy a large percentage of words or pages, but it does need to be fully realized.
Remember the classic check mark picture of plot action, where you start off high, fall quickly, and then climb your way even higher? Ideally, in most situations, you to mimic that with your character development. Start strong, fall, then work to get back up.
Anybody else have any examples from their own work of grappling with this question? Where did you end up? Any good examples of published work that exemplifies success with starting from a position of weakness?