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Rules about Order of Appearance

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Is the rule that the first female character appearing opposite a male lead HAS to be one of the main characters, or a love interest, a hard and fast one in kid lit?

My MG fantasy begins with my MC and a girl who's helping him with a task, but they aren't friends. She's a secondary character throughout the book. However, she has her own growth throughout the story and plays an important part in the ending (which has seeds in the first chapter) The main female character isn't introduced until a few chapters later after the inciting incident. I've had no complaints about this until today when a critique said that my first chapter sets you up to think one girl is a MC and then isn't.

What do you think? Can you name exceptions to this "rule?" How does one go about successfully breaking it?
#1 - March 19, 2014, 10:23 AM
THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC (Boyds Mills Press, Fall 2018)

The biggest exception I can think of to "order of appearance" rules is Harry Potter book 1 in which the Dursleys appear before Harry.

I can see where your crit partner based her comments, however.

Do you think that would still be a question after reading a query or jacket copy? Because that's where your readers would normally enter the story. Personally I don't think it's as big a problem if the character reappears throughout the story and has her own arc, but that is - at least somewhat - a matter of opinion.
#2 - March 19, 2014, 10:36 AM

Owl Princess
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I've never heard of this rule.

I think you can do whatever you want as far as order of introducing characters is concerned.
#3 - March 19, 2014, 02:34 PM

Barb  :owl


Mike Jung

I've honestly never heard of this rule either - it's awfully specific, you know? I agree that you can introduce the characters however you want. The first character to appear in Kate Milford's The Boneshaker shows up for a total of maybe 5 pages in the entire book, just to toss another counter-example out there.
#4 - March 19, 2014, 02:54 PM

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What they all said. You'll occasionally run into a similar "rules" in romance writing, where some not-very-imaginative people think that you have to have the romantic lead be the first guy a female protagonist encounters...but that's pretty much nonsense, IMO. We don' need no stinkin' rules here. Especially useless ones. :yup
#5 - March 19, 2014, 03:06 PM
The Leland Sisters series: Courtship and Curses, Bewitching Season, Betraying Season (Holt BYR/Macmillan)

Thanks everyone!   :thanks2
#6 - March 19, 2014, 03:18 PM
THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC (Boyds Mills Press, Fall 2018)

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I do think you want to be careful, though, not to lead your reader into forming false expectations. Is there a way to subtly lessen the importance of this character at the beginning? I suppose if she has an arc throughout the story, you can't get away with not naming her (named characters are a promise of importance). But you say your MC doesn't like her--can you do something subtle to make your reader not love her, too? (Kind of the opposite of saving the cat?)
#7 - March 19, 2014, 03:45 PM


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