1. Elena Schmetterling
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    Elena Schmetterling Member

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    Introducing characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Elena Schmetterling, Aug 25, 2015.

    Struggling with introducing characters. First of all, describing characters doesn't really come naturally to me, but this is especially hard when quite a few key characters appear for the first time in the middle of action. That wouldn't be the appropriate time to give information about their looks, etc. Not sure what to do so that the characters seem relevant but also don't disrupt the flow.

    Info like:
    1) Age
    2) Relationship to protagonist
    3) Looks + clothes
    4) Position in society

    How could I balance description and action in this instance?
     
  2. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Age is rarely said outright in an introduction. Relationship is shown through interactions and is not typically told. Looks + clothes also show position in society in many cases, but status is also defined by their work and interactions. Better to show than to tell outright.
     
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  3. Elena Schmetterling
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    Elena Schmetterling Member

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    Yes, but it's hard to make these clear initially. That's my issue.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not sure all of that needs to made clear initially. How much of it is necessary to the story at the time of the introduction? How much of it becomes important later? I think you address it by providing as little of this information as necessary at the first encounter and then supplementing that with additional bits of information as the story goes on.
     
  5. DueNorth
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    DueNorth Active Member

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    One piece of advice that I got in a writing class that has helped me that I will share is that it really helps to read a lot of good writing. In doing so, pay attention to how the writers that you respect and like do these things, like introduce details about characters. I think that you will find that they do it in different and creative ways, but rarely in a straight-forward manner such as "Joe Smith, who was age 25, and grow up in an upper middle-class family on Long Island and went to Dartmouth in the 80's, but married down when he picked a gal from ..."
    Your details about your characters comes out in how they interact, what they say, how they talk, what they do, etc.--it unfolds over time. Again, pay attention to how others do it. Maybe go back and reread some of your favorite authors with only this detail in mind.
     
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  6. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    1) Age
    No need to give an exact age in the introduction. You don't need to give an exact age at all unless it's important somehow. Age will be inferred by their relationship to the protagonist (e.g. a friend will probably be around the same age, a mentor or teacher will be older, etc). Their choice of words will also give an impression of age: slang for younger characters, more formal language for older ones. If they speak to your protagonist very respectfully they are probably younger.

    Your physical description, if you give one, can also show age without saying it. "His grizzled grey hair..." "tanned legs emerging from a black mini-dress..." "her knees covered in dirt and her face smeared with ice cream..." (put these together to make a super interesting character :D.)

    2) Relationship to protagonist
    Make it simple and state this off the bat:

    "Hey, Lee," I said, to my best friend.

    Lee patted his little sister on the head. "Hey, squirt."

    Or infer it through the language.

    "I'll tell dad if you do that again!" I said to Lee.

    "Are we going to hang out this weekend?" I asked Lee.

    3) Looks + clothes
    I don't give detailed physical descriptions. If I feel the need it would be a few vague details like "she tucked a pencil behind her ear, smoothing her blonde hair back into place" or "a slim man in a black overcoat". Just enough to let the reader form their own image.

    4) Position in society
    Similar to age. Physical description (how nice are their clothes? how neat their appearance?) language choice (formal, slang, respectful, demanding), how your protagonist feels when they see them (apprehensive, excited, pleased, annoyed).

    How could I balance description and action in this instance?
    My advice and my style: show as much as you can through action and leave the description to a minimum. Ultimately, it's all a creative choice.
     
  7. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    I like to let that information bubble up organically as the characters interact. For example, I might say something like so to introduce him initially: "Dax thought that the younger man looked a bit too green to be any good at the task they had to do. His face had a kind of bright-eyed naivete, and Dax was sure his fine, crisply pressed clothes had been picked out by someone other than the boy himself..."

    The rest can come out gradually throughout the story, as seems natural. If you're going to have much character description, turn it into an opportunity for the reader to infer more than they are actually told. And like others have said, a lot of people don't describe their characters in exact detail.

    I also second the motion to go back and pick through your favorite books, paying attention to how the author brings characters onto the stage.
     
  8. Elena Schmetterling
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    Elena Schmetterling Member

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    I know not to include all of the information at once, but I was wondering how much is too little introduction. So say the best friend appears when the MC is, say, in the middle of a fight and the friend joins him, it wouldn't be too much of a problem to wait until the end of the fight scene for a bit more dialogue which would reveal slightly more about who they are? I just don't want it to seem like a character has appeared, is helping the MC but we don't actually know who they are.
    So...
    As Jake fell to the ground, a shadow appeared at his shoulder - Mike.
    "To victory!" he shouted.
    Mike battled the enemy to the ground...

    Excuse the dialogue - but how would something similar serve as an intro?
     
  9. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That'd work fine for me. I'd immediately assume Mike is someone he knows well, probably of a similar age and status (as they are fighting together) and it doesn't matter how he looks.
     
  10. PeterBr
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    PeterBr Member

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    I'm just getting into writing again after quite a long break, and my thoughts about your question are more from a filmmaker's POV, but I think these character traits should be shown vs explicitly told (unless you're writing a screenplay, in which case you'll likely explicitly write it). Age is tricky, but maybe you can clue the audience in to the persons approximate age by referencing the persons past: "In high school, he remembers the berlin wall coming down, it was all over the news...." Something like that.

    I would try to do the same thing for relationship to protagonist and position in society. For clothes, rather than explaining what he wears, you might also blend that into the story somehow. Maybe he drops his khakis off at the dry cleaner? Does that help?
     

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