1. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    When do you feel comfortable putting in character info

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by peachalulu, Feb 16, 2016.

    I'm half-way through my WIP and I've been reading over what I've written and realized I've been woefully skimpy on my two mc's backstories and information. The kind of stuff that I know in my head but haven't done the best job to inform the reader. There are several ways of going about it that I've noticed through reading - keep dropping nuggets till they all build up, let the reader interpret the scene, flat out tell the reader when the character appears - ala a multicharacter story like Harold Robbins where you learn Henry Hotchkiss runs an ice cream corporation, has a bad comb-over, suspects his wife is sleeping with his partner and he's lactose intolerant and after a paragraph or so of that the scene resumes. Or like Nabokov or Joy Fielding - intrigue the reader with a teaser and then do a few pages of backstory.
    Whatever I'm doing - probably the nugget technique - it's flopping big time.

    So what's your technique? - how do you get comfortable releasing the basics?

    Also as a reader what do you want to learn about the character in the first chapter?
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This is difficult to comment on without reading your WIP. Authors are totally incapable of knowing how much readers have picked up from what they've written, and I think we often overestimate how much detail or backstory readers need.

    I let it unfold. Your nugget technique, I suppose, but I don't deliberately put nuggets here and there. When it comes out naturally in the narrative, it comes out. If it's something the reader needs to know (really needs to know - again, trying not to overestimate) to understand a certain scene, I try to get it in before that scene so it doesn't feel forced. Like when sitcoms have someone's cousin visit for an episode to drive some plot point, then you never hear of them again.

    The scant details I give about appearance also appear early, because it's irritating to picture someone a certain way then read that they look totally different.

    Not much.

    As a rule I'd like to be able to give them two descriptors (nervous and sweet / ignorant and mean / funny and outgoing), a rough idea of age (child, teen, younger adult, middle aged, elderly), gender and any distinguishing features about their appearance. I really don't care what hair or eye colour they have or if they're tall and short unless it's important for the plot. I don't care where they grew up or any backstory. I want to get to know them through their actions then, later, learn about their past as and when needed.
     
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  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    So true.
    I'm probably panicking because it's going to come down to trial and error ... and I'd rather it be formula - please an easy no-mess guarantee formula. :)

    And I've changed up the character ( to an assumed liar ) so now the beginning isn't suitable. Maybe I shouldn't judge so hard since I'm the one making it incompatible.

    It'll be a balancing act - Here's the mc, by the way everyone around him is saying he's a liar, now the reader must decide if he's telling them the truth.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I would think about how the backstory matters to the story. Do we need to know more to be interested in the characters? Spend more time developing them.

    Is it key to their actions or how the story unfolds? Dribble it out in a way that leaves the reader with more and more questions they want to keep reading to find the answers to.
     
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  5. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    I prioritize. In a story about hero archetypes, most of what the first chapter reveals is about why the MC wants to be a hero. A story about bigotry puts the MC face-to-face with casual racism, and a story about guilt shows why the MC hates herself. The less important factors can then be filled in as needed.

    It sounds like you could get a lot of mileage out of the reader being unsure whether the MC is telling the truth. Set up early that the MC has a reputation as someone not to be trusted, but also give hints that this may not be deserved.
     
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