1. Cyrano
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    Cyrano Member

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    Introducing Characters via Action

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Cyrano, Jan 27, 2010.

    My story currently begins with the main character being attacked by a group of kidnappers and violently maiming/killing them with a tire iron. This happens mere paragraphs into the book, and there is currently little characterization before this.

    My question is, should I characterize the main character BEFORE he gets attacked, or AS he's being attacked. I kind of liked the second approach, because it allows the book to start with action and you can learn a lot about someone through their actions. HOWEVER, I think that if you knew the character before this incident, it would have more impact, and the scene would be less broken up.

    And if I do decide to go with the first option, what are some good scenarios where I can sneak characterization in without it being blatantly obvious?
     
  2. soujiroseta
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    soujiroseta Senior Member Contributor

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    I faced something of this kind a while ago where i had two conflicting intros and i couldn't resolve it. so i decided to take a look at what i classified as openings with character depth even though there was action. Having your MC being attacked and then fending off the attackers tells us a little about him. I think that the action orientated approach is better as characterization could easily bore someone, but that's just my opinion. At the end of the day it's just about what you feel works best for you and for your story.
     
  3. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Give us just enough setup to appreciate the action that is happening. It's probably better to start with the character at the moment the attack begins, rather than in the middle of battle- that way, it's easy to slip in information as to where it's happening and what the background looks like before the blood hits it. Start with action, but make the audience understand it and make it on a scale they can comprehend.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's good to start with action rather than static description. But the reason is that having a character doing something can start reveal the character's nature.

    However, a guns-blazing, bombs-exploding action scene doesn't always do a good job of introducing the character. Yes, it can show he's a survivor, but there is little doubt of that at the beginning of the story. So if all you see is him bashing heads in brutal self defense, it doesn't say much about the man beneath the fighter.

    There's something to be said for opening with an adrenaline rush. Mostly what I would say is phooey. I'd rather start with fairly low action and build up, than start high and need to slack off shortly after. But that's a matter of personal taste.
     
  5. Nackl of Gilmed
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    Nackl of Gilmed Member

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    If something about the fight scene illustrates what kind of character he is then I would say it's as viable as any other sort of intro sequence.

    Bloodthirsty, merciful, inventive, destructive, playful, professional... If your character is a soldier, or a similar type of character with traits that only really appear during combat, then combat is a perfectly reasonable way to introduce him.
     
  6. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    The problem with highly dramatic and action-packed openings is that they are hard to outpace in the course of dramaturgic development. But other than that I pretty much agree with Nackl: If the scene is designed in such a way that it characterises the protagonist then it’s ok. Imho probably better that just description.

    There’s a flick that’s a wonderful example for plunging right into the main character via action: Midnight Run. Just a few scenes and you know who you’re dealing with. Excellent.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Nackl: Yes, it can. I didn't mean to imply otherwise. But it isn't the action itself that shows the character. It's how he deals with what is happening.

    I do worry a bit about beginning the story at too high a pitch. The "hit the ground running" tone can be a bit much if you aren't careful.
     
  8. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree completely with Cog's comment. If you begin with lots of drama, the reader may feel the next few chapters are a letdown. I'd probably break the fight scene into two distinct parts spanning the chapter. The opening scene can be full of action but bring it to a close somehow...one side "wins" the current skirmish or chooses to disengage because they are outnumbered, outpositioned, etc. Then, during a brief lull in fighting, your character development can begin with how he/she helps his comrades. This also allows you to build some sacrificial characters for the follow-up skirmish later in the chapter.

    From an outline perspective, the fight:characterization:fight structure for the first chapter uses pacing to capture the reader's interest...high pace for fight, slower pace for character development followed by high pace again, only in the second fight scene, the reader now has some investment in both your MC and the sacrificial characters.

    Even if you break your first chapter into pace segments, you still have the problem that the reader started your story with lots of action and will have certain expectations. If those expectations are not met in subsequent chapters, then your potential fans might turn into your worst critics.
     
  9. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I think it would be more attention grabbing if it started with the aftermath of the battle. He would just be standing there with a tire iron dripping with blood, and the reader would wonder if this is a good or bad guy. After the scene, you would be able to not only develop his character, but do it by increments that bait the reader along.

    Just a thought.

    But I do agree that action is usually the best way to handle a beginning, but not always.
     
  10. Nackl of Gilmed
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    Nackl of Gilmed Member

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    Yeah, that's what I meant by saying that action can be a form of characterization - the way the protagonist deals with the action situation.

    As for how high-octane your action should be in the beginning, I find that video games are a good comparison. You can have a decent fight at the start of the game, but you won't find any proper boss monsters till after a couple of tutorials, and you have more or less figured out what you're doing
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Arriving home and finding a Certified letter from the IRS is also action, and can be every bit as revealing an opening as a battle for one's life.
     
  12. Cyrano
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    Cyrano Member

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    I really like this idea. After describing the opening scene, it would add intrigue and hook the reader. And if its after the fact, I can deliver a lot of info via flashbacks to the fight and what happened right before it by tracing his train of thought.

    I think I'll write a little of both and see which I like best.
     
  13. Cosmos
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    Cosmos Contributing Member

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    You could always do it as a flashback and get the best of both worlds. The impact might be lessened as it's not in real time, but at least you'd accomplish the task of both characterization and action scenes. Might work, might not. Worth a thought, anyways.
     
  14. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Having a protagonist go through a life changing event before we even care about him/her might be jumping the gun a little.

    However, writing the aftermath of the violence, followed by a slow build up of knowledge relating to why and how the attack happened, might help with making your main character gain reader empathy.

    Sounds like a good solution to me.
     
  15. Beyerful
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    Beyerful New Member

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    I had the problem with introducing my two main characters as they fought in a tournament but I didn't like this because, basically, you had two people who were getting described as, for example, a arrow flew past his blonde parted hair.
    I didn't like it like this way so I added a first scene where my main character taunted the other before the tournament and they shared a sort of introductory conversation.

    So yeah, don't start with the action, build up to it with an interesting introductory conversation. Well, actually, thats what I did, I am not sure if it is a good idea, just sharing my opinion!
     
  16. lvlr
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    lvlr Member

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    I would strongly advise you not to just create scenes to show character. Let your character be shown in neccessary scenes. God knows we don't need gratuitous slow scenes.

    I would certainly lean towards putting on the action and trying to work character into that every scene after. His character is his guiding line. So you ought to see who he is in everything he does.

    Just my thought. But I often get complaints of starting too abruptly.
     
  17. writewizard
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    writewizard Contributing Member

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    Give us a reason to get attached to the character before he launches into action. You can add in a few hints here and there. Or at least give us a reason to get attached to him during the fight scene.
     

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