Wednesday, 24 March 2010

I would like to introduce you to...

How often have you read a novel where, when a new character is introduced, all time and plot freezes and we need to read a paragraph or two into the life of this new character?

It happens so much in novels that I'm sure many writers believe this is the only way to introduce their characters. True? I hope not because that sort of writing drives me mad.

That being said, when introducing your characters to the reader, try to do it like you would in real life.

1) A person you meet for the first time will NOT approach and hand you a list of his or her main characteristics. "Hello, my name is Gary. I'm six-two, smart, witty, handsome, a Christian Scientist, my mother's a truck driver, my father tap dances for exercise, I only graduated high school, and recently I had my wisdom teeth extracted."

2) A person will NOT stand there for five minutes while you inspect and measure them for height, hair color, eye color and style of dress.

So, don't do this to your characters.

What can you do instead? Do what happens in real life, we get to know people gradually and through what they do and say.

Do this:
1) Write down the character's name on a sheet of paper.
2) Write down five things you think are interesting about the character.
a) 2 physical characteristics
b) 2 personality traits
c) 1 thing about his past or social role
3) Now, write five scenes where you SHOW instead of DESCRIBE (TELL) the characteristic through either dialog or narrative. For example, lets say Sarah dresses for looks rather than practically. How can  you show and not tell this?
When Mark left the room, Sarah reached down and slipped off her four-inch heel.
'Agh,' she said as she separated her crushed toes.
What about through dialog?
Mark turned around and placed his hands on his hips. 'Sarah, will you hurry? We're going to miss my brother's float.'
'It's these stupid shoes,' she replied.
'I told you to wear your trainers. Why would you wear four-inch heels to a parade?'
Source: The Writer's Way
Picture source: St. Johns Booksellers

Here are some great blog posts I've read today:

Emotional Challenge from Fairway Fiction

Charmaine at Wagging Tales talks about Premise.

Karen from Coming Down the Mountain...Interviewed with e-publishing author Simon Kewin and it was interesting...check it out.


Terry Odell said...

Best advice I had was to consider back story an IV drip, not tube-feeding. And definitely to consider introductions as cocktail party meetings.

Kimberly Franklin said...

Great tip! I love when writers give us a little at a time. I always try to do this! : )

Ann Elle Altman said...

That is good advice...I'm sure you apply it in your novels.


Ann Elle Altman said...

Kimberley, you're right. I love when authors don't treat me like I'm a dumb orangutan unable to read body language (no offense, Mr. Orangutan). If they show and don't tell, I'll still become close to your character and I'll feel proud for figuring what they're like myself.

Thanks for your comment.


Audrey (holes In My brain) said...

Great advice! I'll admit, I don't notice these type of things, but now I probably will :P
And I'll make sure to keep it in mind when I dabble :) thanks!

Ann Elle Altman said...

Audry, that's great. Thanks for your comment.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great points! I'm tweeting, Ann.


Southpaw said...

Good tips.

Jaydee Morgan said...

I love this advice - and I'm going to make sure I incorporate it into my own work.

And thanks for the mention :)

Unknown said...

Excellent tips! As a writer I try and write what I would read so I am making sure to give each reader a little at a time in description, I don't just freely stop my wonderful story to describe someone, lol.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Thanks for tweeting, Elizabeth!

Thanks, Southpaw!

FF, no problem. I loved the article you wrote.

Jen, that's great advice: write what you would want to read!.


Natasha said...

I never realised why those long introductions frustrated me till I read your explanation- in real life when you are introduced to someone, time doesn't stand still. So true.

Did I ever tell you how much I love your insightful posts? A couple of dozen times, maybe?

Ann Elle Altman said...

THanks, Rayna, I really appreciate it.


Christi Goddard said...

It was hard for me to work in my charrie's features until about page ten of my story. It's told first person so I couldn't get him to go 'oh, btw. I've got brown hair.' He's just not into himself so couldn't bring himself to talk about him. He wanted to talk about everyone else. In fact, I had to get him in front of a mirror to do it. He's so obstinant ;-)

Anonymous said...

Ann - Thanks for that advice about introducing characters. It jars the reader, I think, and takes her or him out of the story if there's too much description at first. Besides, in mystery novels it adds to the suspense and sense of mystery if we meet characters a bit at a time.

Talli Roland said...

Great advice! In my first rubbish novel, I made the mistake of launching into a 1000-word backstory straight after introducing each character. D'oh!

I still struggle with how much to reveal, and when. I love Terry's IV drip analogy.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Christi, yes, that's how some writers have to do it... or they can get another character to say, 'I like that brown shirt on you, it matches your eyes.'

Margot, exactly. For mystery readers, who often read for plot, too much description can be a turn off.

Talli, I think many writers do that, I did. But, at least you've learned... I know some writers who have written more than one book and refuse to change.


Faith Pray said...

This is great advice. I like the showing versus telling aspect of character introduction. You're right, it instantly slows the plot when you have to meet a new character and get the entire phone book. Great stuff!

Cat said...

Great post! Its at times hard to break the hair, eyes, height habit. When I look at people now I try to find what makes them unique - a crooked nose, swimmer's v-shape, etc. and describe my characters that way. Love the IV drip tip as well. BTW one of my fav orangs may not read body language but she knows me now. Ambles over everytime she sees me to see what's in my purse. :) Sorry for the digression! Thanks for sharing these great reminders. Cat

Nishant said...

That is good advice...I'm sure you apply it in your novels.
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