Hello, not sure if this is something that has been answered in a previous article, pretty sure I haven’t read all of them, so I apologize if it has.
Anyway, in my story, the protagonist is a part of a noble house-ish thing that is ostracized for betraying the nation, and in the inciting incident, most of them are killed in an event that starts a civil war, launching the protagonist into the leading role for the remnants of his family.
My problem is that I’m really not sure how to portray that. The protagonist doesn’t really get over it until the end of the story, so I know how to go about that, but how much time he should initially spend to mourning them I don’t. Also, how many of them should be introduced and characterized before that? I don’t want to spend too much time in the beginning with characters whose only purpose is to die.
Hey Bobbert, thanks for writing in!
To your first question, everyone mourns differently, so there’s no specific time period for this. Instead, I recommend thinking about how the protagonist’s grief will motivate him. If he’s the kind of person to seek revenge for his losses, then his mourning could go on for quite some time as he hunts down those responsible for his family’s death. If his grief is the more introspective variety, then I recommend saving it for the quiet points in the story between the high points of conflict. Having a moment for the hero to stop and let his grief out can make for a good breather between scenes where death is at stake. It’s powerful, and it gives readers a chance to pause and catch their breath.
To your second question, you’re right that you need to establish his family ahead of time if you want their deaths to mean anything for readers. I’m guessing you want to avoid a situation like what happens in A New Hope, where the death of Luke’s aunt and uncle is treated more like it’s relieving him of a burden than a true loss.
At the same time, you’re also right that you don’t want to bore readers with a bunch of character introductions when nothing is happening. That’ll just turn them off the story entirely. Instead, I’d recommend having two or three family members who are part of some smaller conflict with the protagonist, something that will lead into the family’s destruction later.
Just as an example, perhaps the protagonist and his family are hunting a murderer. That’s part of their job as lords of the land. This is an exciting conflict that will let you build attachment to the family members fairly quickly. They eventually catch the murderer, only to discover he’s the heir to a really powerful noble family. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he must face justice, so the hero and fam bring him back to their keep for trial.
This leads to the murder’s family launching a pre-emptive strike to free him. In this strike, the hero’s family is killed. Now, you’ve launched the main story, and readers never had to be bored on the way.
Hope that answers your questions!