1. MatthewR
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    MatthewR Member

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    Chapter 1 vs. character development

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by MatthewR, May 22, 2011.

    I know the first couple chapters are supposed to take readers by the eyeballs and force them into becoming your captivated audience. At the same time when introducing a new world it can be tough to not over do the explanations, but at the same time trickle in enough information to at least give readers a sense of surroundings and environment.

    My question is how do you walk that line? Especially if the story is from a 1st person perspective, your character isn't thinking about all of the surroundings as though they were anything but normal?
    For example:
    As I do my morning commute for the 1000th time, I'm not likely to take in the billboards and traffic levels as anything unusual, but to an outside observer (the reader) everything would be new and would need to be explained.
     
  2. Patrick94
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    Patrick94 Active Member

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    Most descriptions are tedious and unnecessary. Obviously you'll need some sort of low down, but, especially if it's first person, you shouldn't have too much. You only tend to notice your surroundings in unfamiliar territory.
     
  3. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    The only thing I can really suggest is that you read. I know that probably isn't the answer you want to hear, and you probably don't see it as helpful, but it really is. If you are writing in first person POV and you have read multiple first person POV books you would have an idea of how this works out.

    You really don't think about your surroundings? You don't notice the billboard of the hot bikini model that some angsty teen painted a moustache on? You don't pay attention to where your exit is? You don't notice that some jerk parked in your spot... again? Descriptions aren't tedious and unnecessary. I would argue that they're the opposite. It's knowing how much to give, which ones to give, and how to find the balance. You can only find that by studying.... aka reading.

    EDIT: To clarify, I'm not suggesting that the billboard, exit, or jerk in your parking spot automatically get an honorable mention. I'm just giving examples.
     
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, narrators are not unobservant. If you were honestly to describe a day in your life as if you were in a novel then you'd find yourself recording a lot more detail than you'd expect.

    As an exercise do it for your own life before attempting someone else's. Don't harp on unnecessary details, but don't skip things you see either.

    Also readers are FINE with first person narration explaining things - in fact, reading stuff where the author is trying so hard to make everything seem natural and not explain what anything is is kinda painful. I will drop in lines of backstory and stuff that the narrator may not have genuinely thought in the moment, but no one is going to care.
     
  5. Nightshade
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    Nightshade Senior Member

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    Rather than outlining the things the character doesn't usually notice think more about the things they ALWAYS notice, like how Mr Jones is washing his car AGAIN, doesn't he know there's a hosepipe ban because it's been a boiling hot summer? Or the damn dog at number twelve taking him by surprise by barking over the gate, he does it every day, you'd think you'd get used to it but it always makes you jump. When are they going to muzzle that thing?
     
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  6. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    This time even I have to agree on the advice to read! You will get some good examples on how writers sneak in the information they want the reader to get without them even knowing they are being informed (I think that is the best kind), and the right amount of detail to create a vivid surrounding that captivates the reader. pick up a couple of books you liked and see how the writers did that.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Also, you probably don't want to open with the commute he makes every day.

    You don't need to acquaint the reader with the setting in detail until it's relevant. You can drop the occasional hint:
    In just a couple sentences, you can give a decent sense of the setting without getting lost in details, and push ahead into the action.
     
  8. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    People notice things they interact with, usually, no matter how insignificant.

    So, instead of a passage of infodump about a character's sci-fi living room, just have them sit on their laser couch, reach for their laser remote to watch some laser tv. Now it's not exposition or needless description, but action that not only describes the world, but also starts to acclimate the reader to how people interact in this world, and gives us insight into the character.

    Good prose doesn't describe the world, or provide characterization or build overall meaning, etc, but tries to do all these things. If a line of prose only seems to be doing one thing, usually in the case of describing the world, then it's time to find a way to do more.
     
  9. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Good advice so far.

    Another thing I would add is that nowadays, it's also preferable that you use shorter descriptions anyways. In the age of Dickens, it might have been more acceptable, but nowadays nobody wants to read long descriptions, of course. Thus, you have to strategically describe the most using lesser words. In order to do that, you have to choose a select few details that are, however, very memorable on the reader. Choose ones that, while not the most exact and precise, will allow the reader's imagination to wander the most - if you are able to make images spring insde the reader's head, that's what will keep their interest going to some extent during descriptions.
     
  10. MatthewR
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    MatthewR Member

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    Anyone have suggestions for authors using narrative while introducing their story. George RR Martin, is the only author that I know of to use this style and I actually read it inspite of not really liking the first couple chapters. (the series came highly recommended by a friend so I decided to tough it out.) And these series became one of my favorites.

    My setting is actually reality so it's not that far-fetched and should be easy for most readers to quickly grasp, it's just trying to weave all the pieces together without overdoing it has proven challenging.

    Especially as different character viewpoints may percieve the same places differently. One sees a snooty indie coffee shop for punks and skateboarders and another sees the hip little hole in the wall that allows for relaxation away from the corporate coffee world of starbucks.
     
  11. mc1ate1mad1cow
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    mc1ate1mad1cow Member

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    Very nicely said, and I agree fully.
     
  12. GraceCousins
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    GraceCousins Member

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    I tend to info-dump the first few paragraphs (or chapters in a longer piece), and then rush through the rest of the story with no descriptions of setting or character or anything at all. I usually have to go back afterwards and even things out. So, I know where you’re coming from. I’ve found it helpful to introduce things in different ways. Instead of a paragraph describing a room, try working description into dialogue (“Hey, where did you get this yellow chair from, it’s hideous!”) or breaking up the paragraph into smaller parts (description, dialogue, farther description, etc.) or even (“Pass me that newspaper!” ordered Bill as he took a seat on a truly hideous yellow couch.)

    Also, not everything needs in-depth description. If you’re describing a small town, unless it’s a very particular small town, chances are you could leave the description at just that. Most of your readers would have seen or at least be familiar enough to know what a small town looks like. You probably don’t need to go into detail about the sparse traffic, the lack of street lights, the fact that everyone knew everyone else, etc., unless it’s important later in the story.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm confused about the title and how character development is in conflict with anything. Would you mind clarifying?

    ChickenFreak
     
  14. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    Save the descriptions for later. Don't just describe on the first page, ever. Give glimpses but focus on the scene. And don't describe things that have no impact on the story. For instance the color of the wall is only important if it sets a mood or has some effect on the characters involved in the scene. Telling us the walls are blue and having a scene composed of heavy dialogue would only be useless. (Maybe not a great example, but :p )

    The first page should grab the reader "by the eyeballs" and descriptions tend to be weary on those eyeballs and putting that into your hook will make a lot of people put your book down. Think like a reader and what hooks you to read the books you love.
     
  15. Ashrynn
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    Ashrynn Active Member

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    The way I am going to do it is pretty much the way I had read in a book.

    The character starts out at home and just describes his family a bit, but not much of his surroundings.

    The story takes place in a brand new environment for the character though and as he is facinated with what he sees he explains it and you begin to feel the same "awe" I would say!

    Hrmm....Well yeah, readin is the best way!
     
  16. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    Perhaps skip the family describing part. Imagine being a reader and you pick up a book. Page one is details about these characters that you don't know or care about. Why bother turning the page?
     
  17. Ashrynn
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    Ashrynn Active Member

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    I don't think I'll ever write a first paragraph to a story that I like.
     

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