Introducing New Characters Partway Through a Story

I ran into a conundrum this morning.  I’m writing the beginning of chapter 10 in my fantasy project, and, like I’d planned, I’m deviating from the protagonist and telling the story of what’s happening in a different part of the kingdom. Which got me thinking. What does conventional wisdom say about adding important characters partway through a story? I did some basic research, and discovered that conventional wisdom doesn’t really have a good answer. Like every other aspect of writing, you can do it if you write it right. Like that helps.

Here’s my situation: The first 9 chapters focus on the protagonist, a young man from a small village who is about to discover the world is a lot bigger than he thought it was. The main conflict of the story, hinted at a few times within those 9 chapters, revolves around a vendetta against the royal family, which the protagonist is going to be unwittingly drawn into.

To get that conflict going, I have to explain events that are happening outside of the protagonist’s purview. Enter the crown prince. He’s the perfect character to experience these events, but I’m worried that it’ll be jarring to the reader to suddenly be reading from a different character’s perspective. I intend for him to grow into a more important role, and he’ll be critical in resolving the conflict, but readers won’t necessarily know that upon first encountering him.

One of the Reddit threads I read on the subject made reference to George R. R. Martin. He’s notorious for adding characters left and right and giving them unique storylines. He makes readers care about them, then brutally kills them off. I love Game of Thrones, but I don’t think it’s an adequate representation of what I’m trying to do here. I don’t have nearly his skill, so while I can appreciate the example he’s set, I don’t think it’s something to actively model my writing after.

In the end, I decided to go ahead and write the chapter as I originally intended. Unless I truly change my entire story, I can see no other way to accomplish what I need to accomplish. The prince is important. Hopefully readers will agree with me. And if I make them care about him, it won’t matter that he’s introduced late.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comments are always welcome and can be added by clicking on the title of the post.

3 Replies to “Introducing New Characters Partway Through a Story”

  1. I agree. Risks need to be taken. Writing a novel has basic structure and “rules.” However, any rule can be broken (and sometimes should be) and if it is done well, it succeeds. If one never takes chances, then everything will be plain and nothing will be brilliant. If one takes too many chances, then everything will be borderline insane and the brilliance may be overwhelmed by everything else. Gotta find the balancing act. Take the chance and see how it goes.

    1. That’s the plan. I don’t consider myself a rule-breaker or a pioneer of any sort, I just want to write a good story. There are so many recommendations out there, it gets really confusing. In doing my research there were a lot of people saying “no, don’t do it, ever” and a lot saying “sure, go ahead”. It all boils down to what is best for your story.

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