Charles Dickens could get away with starting a story with the birth of his protagonist. J.D. Salinger chose not to start there and called it ‘all that David Copperfield kind of crap’. Now before I am lynched, let me say that I am a huge fan of Charles Dickens, but David Copperfield was published in 1850. Catcher in the Rye, although very advanced for its time, was published in 1945. Today we don’t write like either of these two authors.
This is 2014. What do we do?
- In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins tells us simply that it is the day of the reaping. She doesn’t explain it or tell us what it means.
- In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green jumps in by telling us seventeen-year-old Hazel is depressed because she has cancer. She is in a support group almost before we hit page two.
- In Room by Emma Donoghue, Jack wakes up on his fifth birthday. He is in Bed and switches on Lamp and has an interesting conversation with Ma. We know something is up and weird, but Emma strings us along. She tells us nothing.
- In The Good Luck of Right Now, Matthew Quick writes about Bartholomew Neil who is clearing out his deceased mother’s underwear drawer and finds a form letter from Richard Gere. The death of his mother and his one-sided correspondence with Mr Gere takes us on a journey that is at once sad, sweet and enchanting.
Now, this is not a post about inciting moments although each one is a brilliant example of a moment of action and change. This is in fact a post about character biographies.
Imagine if I started my post with: To begin my post with the beginning of my post, I record that I wrote (as I have been informed and believe) on a Sunday night at eight o’clock while everyone else was watching the Sunday night movie. (I ain’t no Dickens, that’s for sure.)
How do great modern authors create characters so complete that I am interested in them even though I only met them a page ago?
Read more here