I came across some interesting advice offered by writer James Scott Bell in the Winter 2013 edition of Writer's Digest:
"Create a Doorway of No Return for your protagonist before the 1/5 mark of your book."
In those first few pages, Bell explains, your protagonist must be moving along a path towards a moment of transition, a threshold that once crossed over, can not be crossed back.
To get to this point, the stakes must be high...
The force must be strong...
The protagonist must...walk...through...that door--either willingly or inevitably--and there's no turning back.
Never mind that it's not really a doorway if you can't cross back and forth. Never mind that it sounds like your protagonist has entered a trap, or a jail for that matter. Like moving from the underworld, the character must not turn back, or his or her journey will not be fulfilled.
This concept actually makes sense to me. This is Katniss volunteering to take her sister's place at the reaping. This is Harry Potter, accepting the invitation to Hogwarts. This is Elizabeth Bennett, walking to Netherfield Park during the rainstorm. The stakes for not entering the doorway can not be borne.
In my current Work-In-Progress, my protagonist (not Lucy! This is my other WIP!) has decided to pursue a life of crime. Why did she make that choice?
While I thought in the first draft I made that clear, I can see now that her path, though brambly, was not leading her to The Doorway of No Return. Which meant that the forces I had acting on her were not compelling enough.
NOW, I have unleashed the hounds, and they are chasing her. And here's how I see it:
My protagonist is racing down that path, stumbling, falling. The doorway is ahead, not gleaming but dark. She doesn't know what's on the other side, but it's the only chance she has...the only chance her little brother has too. She will scramble across that threshold, and once she does, she will become a criminal--with no chance of returning to her former life...
But I'm so curious. As a writer or a reader, do you even pay attention to these early doorways? Do you even notice them as significant?
Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.