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I am writing a novel with an alcoholic protagonist. To add dimension to the character and to evoke particular emotive responses from the reader, I feel the need to include a few of the key formative happenings from the character's life. I'd like to know where best to place these formative happenings. Near the start of the novel, just after some seemingly irrational behavior or or...?
with thanks JG  

Answer
Hello, James!

You may believe you are asking a question about character, and in a sense, you are.  However, your question has an equal impact on plot and pacing.  

Having said as much, I suggest you use a writer's favorite tool, the "action-only outline."  No dialogue; no environment; no description; action only!

Here is a quick example:

1) A man is walk-running down the street.
2) He reaches the underground stairs and quickly glances behind himself.
3) He disappears down the stairs.
4) The man rushes onto the crowded platform and enters the next train to arrive.
5) The crowded train rushes down the tracks, jostling the man between passengers.
6) The train stops and the crowd departs.
7) A dead body lies on the floor of the now empty train.  It is the man.

When you use the action-only outline, it assures you of a plot that sustains forward momentum, and because of its simplicity, it shows you how and where you need to reorganize the elements of your plot.  If you have put something of your character's backstory into the wrong place in the plot, it will be obvious to you.

One more thing to consider.  To keep your readers interested, remember that reader discovery is key.  Allow your character to tell the story through his/her actions to the reader.  Don't you get caught telling the character's story in your author's voice.  Allow the reader to "visualize" the charcters actions and to piece together the character's story for themselves.

Best of luck,
Youngbear Roth

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M.L. 'Max' Roth, Executive Editor

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My specialist area is literary and philosophical fiction. I am pleased to answer all queries regarding story, plot, character arc and development, environment, structure, theme, subtext, and conflict.

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