Tips On Introducing Characters

– A lot of questions I receive revolve around the introduction of story elements, such as backstory and politics, so I decided to cover character introductions because it’s a good way to ease into all of these other topics. I hope you all find this helpful. Happy writing!

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Find A Suitable Way

The way in which you introduce a character can be a really big subtextual clue as to who they are and how they will function in the story. Some really good ways to introduce them are:

  • show how a character performs simple actions
  • let their reputation speak for them in the form of other characters’ interactions about them
  • Use some backstory that shows the reader their relevance prior to their personality

Don’t Focus Solely On Physical Description

The truth is, when you meet a person in real life, you don’t spend 5 minutes analyzing the flecks of color in their eyes, the intricate patterns in their outfits, or the marks on their skin. Filter in physical description over time, when physical features become relevant to the narrative. First impressions majorly rely on subtext through common associations with actions, appearances, and words. It’s more important that your reader knows information about them than what they look like. The image will come together with time.

Avoid Cliche Introductions

Anne R. Allen made a short and simple list that she called the Robinson Crusoe Openings, and the following were on it:

  • driving alone in a car
  • sitting on an airplane
  • waking up and getting ready for the day
  • out on her morning jog
  • looking in the mirror

Simply, these put a bad taste in the reader’s mouth because every reader has seen each and every single one of those a million times before. There are more interesting ways to introduce a character to your readers, and there are ways that will suit your character way more.

Make Your Reader Care Early

Don’t jump right into the action without showing the reader multiple reasons why they should care about your character. Introductions are a good way to set up future information about their motivations, struggles, etc. which make your reader invested in what happens to that character.

Relevance = Page Time

What I mean by this is, the impact a character will have on the story and conflict resolution for that story (even in a series) should determine how much time is devoted to describing them. If they aren’t a huge part of the story now, but will come in hot in book 2, leave the meaningful introduction for when the reader actually needs to remember them. If a minor character comes in that isn’t apart of any major subplot or the main conflict, then spend less time describing them to the reader than the main characters. This seems like common sense to a lot of people, but this strategy is often overlooked in practice.

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