1. explodingboy
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    explodingboy New Member

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    character intros/descriptions

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by explodingboy, Jul 20, 2010.

    I'm in the first chapter of a story about the residents of a single street. I wouldn't call it an "ensemble" by any means. there's a defined main character (or hero family) but the supporting characters are a major part of the story. (something like goonies or the tom hanks film "the burbs")

    my question is about the method with which i was going to intro and describe the neighborhood beyond the hero character.

    I have him waking up at sunrise before the street gets moving. he walks outside and looks at everyone's houses. It's in the 3rd person and i just describe all the families. right there, in a "next to so and so lived the so and sos..."

    my question is if this just sounds like a horrible idea and it makes you want to vomit, or does it work?

    should i just describe them when they enter the story?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd just describe them as they enter the story. Take a few lines for them when they become important. If you have your main character take a long time walking through the neighborhood describing everyone, the reader will start saying "Why is he telling me this? Why should I care about the Smiths who live three doors down? Why should I care about little Bobby Johnson and his skateboard?"

    The reader won't care until you give him a reason to care. So introduce the characters when they become important to the story.
     
  3. Fantasy of You
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    Fantasy of You Banned

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    Starting your story with your character waking up is overdone That said, like everything, if done right it's fine. The same applies for the descriptions of the neighbourhood. While I wouldn't expect an info-dump ,concerning every family on the block, to be interesting, I imagine it could be if the details were different enough.

    It's your intro, remember. Got to hook 'em.
     
  4. Tom Gold
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    Tom Gold Member

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    Explodingboy,

    When I'm reading a story that has multiple characters its useful if there is a section of the book where they are all introduced so I can refer back to it. Its especially useful if you are (like me) reading the story over a period of time rather than at one sitting. However like someone just pointed out this has all the makings of an info dump.

    Here's a suggestion; instead of waking up and walking down the deserted street recollecting the occupants of the houses how about have your MC recollect doing something from his childhood like delivering the Christmas cards to all the neighbours. How is he received at each house and by whom?

    'With a shudder he remembered Mr McGee's angry drunken voice from the behind the letterbox 'Who in the hell is that?'

    Actually now I think about it this would work better as a 'real time' prologue.

    Anyway, just a suggestion. One thing is for sure, introducing an entire street full of people as an opening will require some special handling to keep the reader going. T
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I could imagine it working well if it flowed a bit like a song Daydream Believer, The Monkees, Penny Lane, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds (actually Beatles were really good at this), Park Life by Blur, Pulp also had a few good songs. Something like that kind of feel. Or maybe working it with his nicknames for them (we have farmer, BBQ'er. Whitepant etc in our street)

    If you can pull it off it would be good. But for me it would need a device or gimmic to keep me interested.
     
  6. explodingboy
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    explodingboy New Member

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    thanks, guys.

    Fantasy- i've been going back and forth on opening it with the obvious getting out of bed thing like it's a blues song or something.

    i haven't totally decided. i only was doing it to fully flesh out the first chapter as a complete day in the neighborhood.

    needs to be as sugary as possible though, like you said. so i may try to cook up something more intriguing.

    elgaisma- the song pacing thing is interesting. i love pulp.
     
  7. Fantasy of You
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    Fantasy of You Banned

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    Why don't you begin the story with the protagonist in one of the houses, having a conversation with a neighbour?

    I really don't see why you must lay the information for each neighbour out so soon. Why not cross the bridge when you come to it?
     
  8. Chel
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    Chel Member

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    I'd definitely introduce them as they are needed for the story. You can always make the reader know that the neighbours are important to your main character by other means than potentially confusing the reader by presenting the neighbours in a long list.

    Maybe you could start with a nextdoor neighbour waking the main character up by cutting the grass, for example?

    "Only Mr. Jones would ever get up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday to cut his grass. And only I seemed to ever be disturbed by it. It had become a game of sorts, him starting the old, coughing motor and me jumping out of bed to grab yesterday's socks to throw at him."
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Definitely introduce them as they enter the story, no more than one (preferred) or two at a time. You want each character to be distinct in the reader's mind, and you cannot do that by introducing a clump of characters all together.

    Start right into the story without ambling (or preambling) about the neighborhood. You want to hit the ground running to involve the reader immediately in the story.
     
  10. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Start with dialogue or action, please. Intros about someone waking up, starting their day at work, walking down the street, etc always end up being ineffective. (Based on 99% of the stuff I"ve read)

    Good luck! :)
     
  11. Fantasy of You
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    Fantasy of You Banned

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    I
    ECHO
    ECHO

    echo....
    this.
     
  12. TheNewGuy
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    TheNewGuy Senior Member

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    I like your idea, but I think perhaps you could do without the waking up and walking into the street. In fact, you could introduce all of the characters in one chapter, or preface, somewhat like Tokein in his introductory essay about Hobbits (often included in many editions). You could do a 3rd person omniscient preface, introduce the characters, and then switch to follow your hero (who is somewhat less described in the preface) and describe him there.

    Just a possibility.
     
  13. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Recommendation: (not telling you what to do, it's your story)

    Begin with your MC chatting with one of the neighbors about another neighbor. You've already established 2 other people/families this way. Then while they're chatting, he can think about some other pressing issue he has to go take care of, which of course would be something that also ties into your main storyline.
     
  14. dogboon
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    dogboon Member

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    Hi ExplodingBoy, nice to meet you.

    If I may contribute, I love the street scenario. The Burbs is one of my all time favourite films and the Goonies is too.

    I see that your not giving away your plot but you use the term 'hero' rather than protagonist which makes me assume that the story will be dramatic with a dash of action and mystery with a few bodies thrown in for good measure. Having concluded this (I'm seriously considering deleting this paragraph) I wonder if I am totally wrong. My suggestion is to start the opening scene with drama, something that is cunningly related to the plot which would become clear once it has unravelled itself. This would give cause for the other characters to enter stage left. Possibly at a wake, or as everyone comes out onto their porches to watch one of the houses burn down, or while the hero and a couple of his pals go door knocking to enquire about something related to the before said dramatic event.

    Then again it depends on the plot at the end of the day. I wouldnt do anything unless it progressed the story in some way. And remember, show dont tell.

    You've got me wanting to watch 'Burbs now lol
     
  15. OvershadowedGuy
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    OvershadowedGuy Member

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    you have to start your story out with a hook, The most important line of your book is the first one.

    If it doesn't hook, 90% of the people browsing your story won't read the first paragraph.
     
  16. Langadune
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    Langadune Member

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    I've seen a few commentaries by editors--and in a couple of submission guidelines--that beginning with waking up in the morning is one of their pet peeve openings.

    That sad, you might trying a little more interesting... let something happen. Maybe your character is wandering the neighborhood looking for a lost a cat, maybe even chasing a dog that slipped out.
     
  17. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Do anything but waking up and observing the neighbours!! i.e, if you want me to read your story :)
     
  18. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    I'm only here about a week but I have seen lots of people mention this as a pet peeve. Is it that common? Most books I have read don't seem to use it. It would be a poor way to start a book I agree just I haven't seen it used all that much.
     
  19. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    May be it is overused, I don't know. I am by no means eligible to comment on that. What I know is that it bores me to death whenever I encounter one and in my book it is lack of creative imagination (or even laziness) in the writer's part.
     
  20. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    I believe the main problem is that it isn't very realistic. Would anyone go out in the morning and state the personal profile of each of his neighbours? What most people's pet peeve here is not so much that way of introducing neighbours, but rather anything that would be hard to believe. Besides having the potential to be extremely boring, it is often seen as the last resort for an author who has run out of inspiration.

    There are many ways of introducing the reader to the neighbours, the best of course, being show, not tell. Why tell the reader the old man down the street is nasty, when you can instead show the reader how nasty the old man down the street really is?

    P.S. The reason you don't see it often is that most good authors don't use it. It might be hard to find a book with this in it, because I can almost guess that publishers are put off when they see this at the beginning of the book. However, I do know that children's novels ( eg. books that I considered a novel when I was 8 years old) use it more often.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no one can tell if it works without reading how you wrote it, since even the worst ideas and no-no's can work if written well... and none of the best can work, if not...
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that if the reader can tell that you're giving them an introduction to the neighborhood, this is likely to fail. So if you want to do this, I think that you need to have a different apparent purpose for the scene, so that the reader doesn't really notice its "guided tour" nature.

    For example, rather than just taking a nice meditative walk, the character could be looking for his lost dog, a dog that has a long record of wandering away from home and mooching from the neighbors. And while he's looking for the dog - knocking on the Smiths' door, carefully edging through Mrs. Andrews' garden, looking under the rusted car in the Jones' front yard, and so on - you could introduce yet _another_ plot element. Maybe he sees a burglar or sees one of his neighbors doing something that will be relevant later.

    The idea is that, yes, the scene introduces the neighborhood, but it also completely pulls its weight in terms of plot development, so that people don't get bored when they see summary-type writing, and just skip over it.

    The beginning of _The Mirror Crack'ed_ by Agatha Christie is, IMO, a good example of this - after a few pages you realize that you've learned all sorts of things about Miss Marple, her garden, her household situation, her state of health, her gardener, her immediate neighbors, her village, and recent developments in the village, without really noticing that you're being told about those things. And when you're done with the book, you realize that those first few pages also introduced major elements of the mystery.

    ChickenFreak
     
  23. Sang Hee
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    Sang Hee Contributing Member

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    Unless it's really important for us to know about the people living there then I'd advice to skip it or summarize the community there somehow so it doesn't take much time. There is nothing more boring to me if I have to read too many descriptions before taking on the action. But then again, I'm quite minimalistic about descriptions because action is more important to me than knowing that the house had green doors and some guy was wearing a brown leather jacket. I have a more film-like approach to literature (not a good thing in general :D )
     

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