1. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    Beginning a story with character intros

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by BillyxRansom, May 17, 2010.

    I was thinking of doing this, not just as a way to get it all out of the way, but as sort of an experiment in style. Is it possible to find a stylistic approach to doing this that would be beneficial to the story, tone and mood and so forth, and make it not feel like it's being rushed?
     
  2. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Exposition, whether it is about characters or anything else, is always better and more interesting when weaved into the events and naturally occuring dialogue. Even stuff that can't be shown through action and dialogue shouldn't be given to us all at once. Otherwise we get bored and wonder when something is actually going to happen.
     
  3. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I agree with this. Expositions, also know as info dumps, can really frustrate the readers.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I believe in beginning with a character intro, but by showing, not telling.

    Don't give a history lesson or biography. Don't go nuts trying to give the reader a physical description - it isn't important.

    Do show the character doing something - facing a problem of sonme sort, for example, because that will show the reader the most about your character. A simple problem is enough, like having to meet someone in half an hour and the character can't find where he wrote the the address.

    Don't introduce too many characters at once. Preferably, you focus on only one at a time, and only bring in other characters at that time if absolutely necessary. That helps the reader fix that character in his or her mind before moving on to the next one.
     
  5. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    Meh, character bios usually come with bad fanfics and such.

    Bios give the reader the impression that the author didn't have the writing ability to introduce the character into the story without setting off away from the rest of the story.

    I think that bios don't hurt that much, as long as they're placed at the end, as sort of an end note.
     
  6. Tamsin
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    Tamsin Senior Member

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    I think they can work in young teenager fiction, and maybe fantasy but it is too simplistic and obvious for most readers I think. It is always better to slowly reveal your characters through their actions, dialogue, narrative and description.

    If there is some crucial information about a character the reader needs at the very beginning of the story then think of an interesting way to reveal it.
     
  7. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Character introductions at the beginning are quite unfashionable these days, although there are plenty of great novels from earlier periods where characters are introduced, often at great length, at the beginning of the novel through exposition. It certainly wouldn't be an "experiment", but if you feel that it, as a stylistic device, serves your novel well, then by all means do it. But be aware of who your readers are. A lot of people won't persevere through it if they're the type to expect a compelling story right from page one. And, of course, you need to be a strong enough writer in terms of style to be able to maintain interest through long passages of extended exposition. This is why writers like D H Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway can get away with it, while most cannot.
     
  8. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    Think about it this way, in real life you get to know a person little by little, and with each new thing you learn over time, you come to understand that person better and why some things are the way they are. In example, I'm friends with a recovering coke addict, when I first learned of it at first I was surprised and offended, but then I learned their reasons through a long course of actions and little by little about their past.

    Now, had I just seen that person's bio straight up, I probably would have rejected them and not bothered to read on past some of the things that I learned about them. Which is why a massive information dump all at once and right away isn't such a good thing. Not unless you do it like Cogito suggested and inform your readers about it through the character's actions and words.

    But it certainly can be done, you just have to be careful not to loose your reader's when pulling off this kind of experiment.
     
  9. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why should the age of the audience make a difference? It's still a boring way to start a book if it's not done through story.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Unfortunately, I think some writers write for kids in ways they would never try on an adult audience, on the basis that kids won't distinguish good writing from bad.
     
  11. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's an unfortunate epidemic among writers and publishers.
     
  12. Loup
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    Loup Member

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    I can't agree more and for a reader, it's sincerely boring to have to read a long bio before really getting into the plot.
     
  13. Magix1reaper
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    Magix1reaper Member

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    I have to agree with Cogito - giving the character something to deal with will show who he/she is right from the get go. Other plots in the future could show different sides of the same coin, if you get my drift.

    Steve abhors riding a bike because he was in a bad accident on one years ago. If you reveal this through writing you can build the character quite well as the book progresses.
     
  14. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    While I agree that it is often preferable to reveal aspects of character through their actions/interactions/reactions, as with all aspects of writing, it doesn't make for a good hard and fast rule. Sure, let your reader come to understand your characters through their actions, but don't turn every episode into some trial of personality. Sometimes its better (for the sake of pacing, flow, style, contrast, whatever) to flat out tell your reader "Johnny has a fear of water" instead of breaking off into a story from his childhood explaining how it came to be. This is really a question of "Show, don't tell", which is useful for the most part, so long as the writer is aware that there is a time to show and a time to tell, and if the situation demands it, you need to be able to confidently and stylishly tell. Neglect your "telling" abilities at your own risk...
     
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  15. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    You still have to wait for the right time to bring it up, not just tell all at the beginning.
     
  16. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    If the beginning's the right time, it's the right time. Like I said, it's been done successfully many times before, and just because it's unfashionable now (and that is all it is), doesn't mean it won't/can't come back. Saying (arbitrarily) don't put it at the beginning makes as much sense as saying don't put it in chapter 3. Without actually seeing any writing, no one can say for sure whether it will or won't work. Certainly for most people, it won't, but that's not to say it can't, or that it shouldn't be attempted if it seems to fit the story.
     
  17. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    So if we're in agreement that it has to be timed well, why are you still debating?:confused:
     
  18. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    @Arron
    That's pretty much it. Even if the character is revealed through their actions, it can't be always good if the writing is not good enough.

    I do agree that, some things about the characters, if required, needs to be told in the beginning otherwise the story simply might not work. For example: Story about a captain of a spaceship fighting with some aliens some light years away from earth. In such a case, the readers need to be told who and where they are before any action could happen. The story might begin like this:

    Aaron, captain of the spaceship 555-Alpha, stood on the command deck. On the giant screen in front, some light years away, Earth was just a tiny dot. He and his team had left Earth on a search and rescue mission after the........

    Even if the story begins with some kind of action.... the above informations simply must be told somewhere in the story, preferably near the beginning. So, you can't always avoid telling because it is out of fashion in today's writings. As long as the information is vital and told interestingly, I don't think the readers will mind being 'told'.

    P.S. I have no idea if Earth will be visible from a distance of some light years :)
     
  19. ToxicWaste
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    ToxicWaste Member

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    Telling your reader about a character doesn't really make them "come alive." Showing your reader their traits and how they change in develop makes them seem human.
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even here, though, I'd rather wrap the information in an outer layer of character emotion, or events, or something. As an example:

    "Aaron hated rescue missions. Hated them. Always rushed, always compromised on resources, with the big hats mouthing worried platitudes even as they searched for someone to blame for the extra costs. But when the distress call came the natural-born heroes were light-years away coddling the victims of a solar flare, so the 555-Alpha was dispatched with instructions to be quick (and cheap) about it. As captain, Aaron..."
     
  21. dboynton
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    dboynton New Member

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    The rule-of-thumb I tend to employ with descriptions is to think about it in the context of meeting someone for the first time in real life. Rarely do I ever shake someone's hand and think, "This guy has brown hair, deep blue eyes, a mole on his chin. He stands about six-two..." Nobody does that and I think it generally feels unnatural to the reader.

    Instead, have the full description of a character written down in your notebook and consider the feature that would jump out at you if it were meeting the character for the first time. Then weave that into the narrative early. As the reader gets to know the character better, introduce other elements that contribute to making the character seem real.

    To give due to earlier feedback, having a smaple of what you're proposing to write would be the ultimate determining factor, but I think, in general, this is the way to go.
     
  22. Cardboard Tube Knight
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    Cardboard Tube Knight Member

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    When I get an idea for experimental stuff, I usually ask what practical effect this will have on the book. Short of you being a playwright this seems to be a bad choice of how to give us the characters because it would take any surprises out of their characterization and instantly tell us who's a main character or one we will be seeing more often.

    I will admit, I've seen it done in novels, there's something similar to that at the start of Good Omens. But the book is a total satire.
     
  23. Falconjudge
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    Falconjudge Member

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    They're kind of awkward... I used to do it, and I must say, it attributed to my mad desire to DESTROY everything I've ever done.
     

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