Most writers fret over developing characters and getting down to every last detail, but what about introducing them?
The introduction of a character is the reader’s first impression of who this character is. If this character is important, you’ll want to make it stick out to the reader.
What to Avoid:
Queerness: If you introduce a queer character, forget the queer part. Ignore it during introductions unless absolutely necessary. Showing that a character is queer during the introduction creates a bias in the reader. Some readers nitpick queer characters and examine every detail to make sure the author didn’t screw it up. Establish this character first. Paranorman did this beautifully with one of their characters. It was the absolute last thing the viewer learned, after the film explored the character in all other ways available. However, you don’t have to wait until the very end. You can introduce this whenever you want, just make sure it’s not the absolute first thing you mention about a character’s life.
Appearance for a POV Character: The first thing you introduce about a POV character should not be his or her appearance unless it’s relevant. For example, if your character is in a jail cell during the 1700’s, you could describe his long beard or thinness to show poor conditions and neglect. But when do you introduce appearance? Well that’s the beauty of writing. Unlike a film, your reader cannot see everything. You are in charge of opening this world to your reader. Describe the appearance whenever you want, preferably after your reader has a little insight on the personality of the character, but don’t wait too long to do so. Give your reader at least a little bit of information in the beginning.
The Mirror: When introducing a main character for the love of everything do not make them look in some sort of reflective surface. It’s lazy and it’s overdone, especially in first person POV. A way you can use this without being cliche is if the character is looking at something specifically like an injury.
All at Once: Don’t reveal everything about your character at once, including character traits and appearance. Do this gradually, to keep the character fresh in the mind of the reader. If you info dump, the reader may have to go back to keep track of what characters look like.
More Than One: Be careful when introducing two characters at the same time. I can’t recall how many books I’ve read in which the main character meets up with two friends and says nothing more than what they look like and the fact that they both like the same hobby. It’s hard to tell these types of characters apart and it just becomes annoying when the author tries to introduce more than two characters at the same time. If you need to introduce more than one character at the same time, try giving some time between them. Even just a couple minutes will do.
First Pages: Don’t introduce all your characters within the first few pages. It gets messy and disorganized.
Back Story: Don’t introduce a character with tons of back story. Save that for later. The reader does not care about the back story yet and it’s too much information for them to hold at once. Readers needs to know the character before they are able to attach a back story to a face.
Too Many Names:
"Where are you going, Joe?"
"The pizza came, George."
"I’m not going, Hannah."
Avoid writing a bunch of dialogue like that at the beginning. Some of it can flow naturally, but keep it to a minimum and reveal names within the narration. Don’t wait forever to reveal a person’s name though. Doing it once is okay, but when you’ve got a larger cast it can be difficult to keep track of who is who.
Of course, these are not rules and there are exceptions. For example, in Brave New World, a person’s appearance gave hints to where they stood in society and thus giving a person’s height upon introduction was useful.
How to Introduce a Memorable Character:
When introducing a memorable character, try to think about who that character is. 30 Rock is a great example. During the first episode, one of the characters makes his introduction by literally kicking down a door in a casual manner. The behavior fit the character perfectly, as the watcher learns as the show reveals more about that character.
Characters should be introduced in their natural habitat. Again, using Paranorman as an example, the main characters are shown in ways that help define them. The main character is first shown talking to a ghost because he is able to see the dead. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark opens with Indy on one of his many archaeological journeys/treasure hunts and shows just how bad ass he is. Basically, you should introduce the major aspects of your character first and get on to the details later. You want to hook the reader with characters instead of starting out quietly.
How to Introduce Other Characters:
When you introduce any character, you should not think of them as something that has not existed before the page. Force the mindset that your characters existed before the story began. They already have mannerisms and voices that have been developed. You’re just focusing on one part of their lives. Therefore, it’s not really an introduction. You’re basically taking a picture of one time period of a person’s life. That picture is just a small part of what your characters are and what you see in that picture is what you get in an introduction.
You also need to introduce the motive, especially for the main character. This doesn’t have to be the main motive, but your character should want something. The reader needs to root for this character from the beginning to keep reading.
Once you’ve introduced your character, you have to keep that introduction consistent. It can’t be all dramatic at first and then die down for the rest of the story.
Summary of What to Introduce:
- A motive, large or small.
- A little bit of the appearance.
- A behavior or a character in action.
- Hints of personality (both good and bad qualities).
- The reason the reader should care about this character.
- Basics (name, age, gender, etc. (if applicable)).