Making an Entrance

My New Year’s wish for you is the joy of writing.

Here’s a tip to bring verve to your story’s opening. It’s an excerpt from my book, Page-Turner: Your Path to Writing a Novel that Publishers Want and Readers Buy.



First impressions are crucial. We all know that about “real life.”

But it’s equally true of a reader’s first impression of a fictional character. Their response to your story’s protagonist is especially important.

Yet new writers often waste this opportunity by introducing their protagonist in idleness or passivity. Be smart – put the visceral impact of the 1st impression to work for you.

Think of your story as a movie, and your protagonist as the star, and give him or her a dynamic and meaningful entrance. Focus on two steps:

  1. Determine the character’s defining quality
  2. Show that quality through action

Action is the key. Description of a character tells the reader mere facts and has little visceral effect, whereas showing the character’s defining quality through action produces an emotional response in the reader, leaving a deep and lasting effect.

Screenwriters do this very consciously. Watch any film you admire and notice how the scene in which the hero or heroine first comes on screen demonstrates their defining quality. In other words, it shows the character’s essence.

When actors first read a script this “essence in action” is the very thing they look for. I know – I made my living as an actor for twenty years.

As a writer of fiction, you can use this screenwriting technique to powerful effect. Strive to write an entrance scene for your protagonist which, if your story were made into a film, would attract an A-list actor to the role – a star.

Here are three examples of the kind of dynamic entrance I mean:

  1. In A.S. Byatt’s POSSESSION, the young scholar Roland Mitchell, researching a Victorian poet, opens an old book in the London Library and out fall two unsigned love letters written by the poet. Roland impulsively steals the letters – and thus begins his audacious quest for the truth about his subject. Roland’s essence is his ambition to excel as the foremost expert in his field.
  2. Ian McEwan’s ATONEMENT opens with Briony Tallis, a precocious child, obsessing about the play she has written, and orchestrating her young cousins to take roles in her fictional world. Her need to control people, and her obsession with storytelling, are the essence of her character.
  3. My novel THE QUEEN’S LADY, set in London, England in the reign of Henry VIII, opens with seven-year-old Honor Larke risking her life to try to find her servant-friend amid a May Day riot. When she sees the mob viciously attack a foreigner, then move on, Honor’s curiosity and pity drive her to help the dying stranger. This is her essence, shown in action.

The examples above are all opening scenes with a protagonist, but your opening doesn’t have to feature the protagonist. You may want to kick-start the story with some other event – for example, one featuring the antagonist. What’s important is that when you do bring your protagonist on stage, give them an entrance in which the action they take resonates on a meaningful, emotional level with your reader.

Whether your hero or heroine is a rogue, a lost soul, a killer, or a saint, their entrance is your opportunity make them a star.

Happy new year. And happy writing!

Barbara Kyle

Crafting a Page-Turner

I love helping writers who are serious about their craft. So, let me share with you the following excerpt from my new book Page-Turner: Your Path to Writing a Novel that Publishers Want and Readers Buy. As a novelist with over half a million books sold, I hope you’ll find Page-Turner helpful and inspiring.

The Plot/Character Debate

Critics will sometimes categorize a novel as either “plot driven” or “character driven.”

When they call a book “plot driven” it’s their shorthand for saying the story is exciting, but the characters are a little thin. For example, a Tom Clancy techno-thriller might be called “plot-driven.”

When a critic calls a story “character driven” it’s shorthand for saying the characters are complex and fascinating, but the plot is a little thin. Many literary novels, such as Saturday by Ian McEwan or Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, might be called “character driven.”

Shorthand may be necessary for critics, but for writers this binary reduction is a false analysis. It’s meaningless. Because the simple fact is that all stories are character driven.
Plot cannot exist without characters. Characters create plot.

Cause and Effect

What’s at work here is causality. Author E. M. Forster summed it up thus: “The king died and then the queen died,” is just a sequence of events, but “The king died and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. The queen’s sorrow caused her death. The characters caused the plot.

Two Famous Examples

To illustrate this dynamic further, let’s look at two of Shakespeare’s best known characters: Hamlet and Romeo. What do we know about Hamlet’s character? He is introspective, analytical, cautious. What do we know about Romeo’s character? He’s passionate, intrepid, bold.

In Act 1 of Hamlet, Hamlet encounters the ghost of his dead father who tells him he was murdered by his own brother, Claudius. This stuns Hamlet, because his Uncle Claudius is now married to Hamlet’s mother and is king. The play is about Hamlet longing to take revenge on Claudius but being constantly restrained by his own meditative, analytical character.

Now, what if Romeo found himself in that situation? Desperate to avenge his father’s death, Romeo, being passionate and impetuous, would kill Claudius in Act I and the story would end—there would be no Hamlet plot.

Likewise, by the end of Act I of Romeo and Juliet Romeo is so madly in love with Juliet he’ll risk everything to be with her, even risk being killed by her family. But if Hamlet found himself in Romeo’s Act I situation, he might become so engrossed in pondering the existential nature of love that Juliet, unaware that he adores her, would obediently marry Paris, the man her parents have chosen for her, and the story would end. No Romeo and Juliet plot.

So, never forget this. Character creates plot. Period.

The above is an excerpt from Page-Turner. Want to read the first chapter? Be my guest! Read it here.

And you can buy Page-Turner right now:

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Grow as a writer. Dare to succeed.

All my best,
Barbara Kyle