A tale about who?

I started reading a book last night and the writer did something that really bugged me: she kept the identity of her main character a secret. Or maybe it wasn’t so much a secret as it was deliberately vague. It honestly took me around 30 pages just to figure out if the character was male or female and by page 37, I still wasn’t sure exactly what time frame I was in.

As a result, I put down the book and I will not pick it back up. After 37 pages, I wasn’t engaged in the main character’s plight nor did I understand what that plight was since I’d spent all 37 pages trying to figure out if HE was a SHE!

So my short advice for writers today is this: you don’t need to give readers the main character’s complete details in chapter one, but for the love of all things blue, PLEASE at least find a way to tell the reader:

1) if they are male or female (and don’t assume they’ll know just because you called your character Chris, Pat, Morgan, Taylor, or Andy!)*
2) approximate age (I personally prefer an exact number but even just a ballpark is nice. Are they 14? 40?)
3) approximate time of setting (present day? 100 years ago? 100 years in the future?)

*Small print: The only exception I will make to #1 is for an awesome book called Gentlemen and Players. Those of you who have read it will understand why.

Category: On Writing