I’ve promoted a comment from the other day up here so we can all discuss this, because there will be differing opinions.
asks about introducing a major character who doesn’t come onstage until late in a novel. I think this is a great question about storybuilding and “playing fair” with readers, while getting the chance to be a bit mysterious and pique their interest.
Here’s the situation: in the prologue, James is introduced as a small boy who is taken from his mother back in the 1660s. 14K words later, the adult James shows up again (in our own time–apparently a time-traveler), but is introduced only as JP. The reader is finally told around 65k into the story that these are the same person (but the smart ones suspected already (grin)). He’s the second most important character in the tale, so should he be introduced earlier? Or mentioned earlier?
I posted a few days ago about ways to raise story questions by mentioning characters who aren’t yet onstage fairly early on. Without reading the story, I can’t know how many clues you already drop (this would be under the category of “visible breadcrumbs,” I think, as we discussed earlier!), but I do think clues are very important. Readers should have a fair chance to figure something like this out and can feel clever when they discover they were right! Some readers will even backtrack to see where the clues were planted *ahem* and decide whether it was fair play or not.
My gut feeling is that people should definitely know about this fellow. Either someone has been researching him for genealogy (say) and perhaps can mention to a friend how she found birth records for this guy on the ‘net but then he disappeared at age so-and-so and there are no death records or marriage records . . . or maybe someone has heard the legend of how this child was taken, and the family rumor has always been that his name was changed and he was taken overseas to be a slave and later started the Universal Widget Company. Or whatever. This legend can be complete B. S., by the way, or can be an incredibly embroidered version of the truth, or can be part fantasy and part truth. Work it in somewhat early on, so that readers can file this away in their memories to be seized on later.
Or perhaps there’s an old oil painting that’s come down through the family . . . or is in a local museum . . . or that somebody runs across at a flea market. The 1600s would be too early for a daguerrotype or any kind of photo, but a sketch might survive. That painting can have some kind of cryptic note on the back, and someone can have it hanging on the wall. The portrait, of course, is of the mother and this child, James. When JP shows up, people might remark on how much he looks like the mom in the picture . . . and hey, he could’ve been that kid!
You get the idea.
I’ll bet a lot of you have great ideas about this. But we’ll all agree, I think, that it would work best if you could manage to have some kind of “family legend” or a historical tidbit that some librarian type (ahem) runs across, and then early on the reader will know that this stuff will come up again.
What say you all?