Why, hello! 3 Tips for Compelling Character Introductions
Who doesn’t remember the first entrance of Captain Jack Sparrow? In fabulous pirate regalia he sails into port in the crow’s nest of what looks to be an equally fabulous pirate ship… until the camera pans out. By the time he approaches the pier he’s bailing out the tiny ship with a bucket, but manages to step from the top of the mast onto dry land with his usual panache. In that one scene, we learn so much about him, from the fall in his fortunes to the stylish moves he still manages to pull during this particular slump.
Memorable character introductions can cause us to fall in love with characters–they make them memorable and hook us to their fates. This week in revisions I’ve been looking at a new way to introduce one of mine, and as usual, here’s the research! Links, as always, at the bottom.
Use The Force
Jason Black has a mammoth article on this–it’s a tribute to the quality of his advice that my attention didn’t wander once! He dissects the character introductions in Star Wars (Episode IV, of course) to show us just how much is achieves. His number one piece of advice is to make sure the introduction tells us what’s important about that person. The ways he suggests we can achieve this include (but are not limited to!):
Action (making a choice) – Watching Leia make an impossible choice conveys to us her importance, her leadership and her morality.
Conflict – Does the character have power? What’s important to them? Losing (as Luke does at first) can be as important as winning.
Setting – Where is the character when we meet? Why? What does that place show us about them?
Jason’s advice is great–act fast, make sure readers form the right impressions of your characters up front, and get them hooked! I really can’t do him justice in such a short summary, but I encourage you to check his post out.
Spread The Word!
Reflect for a moment upon Pride and Prejudice. Remember the way the Bennett family chatter and flutter over Mr. Bingley before he ever appears in person? They speculate upon his wealth, his manner, his marital status and his future parties. Before he ever uttered a word, Mr. Bingley was firmly fixed in our minds.
Brian Hodge provides fabulous advice in this regard–I can’t possibly capture all of it here, so I recommend you click through and read! He discusses the value of building a reputation for a character before they appear in the story. He suggests letting other characters talk and reflect upon the character you’d like to have an impact, and provides a list of approaches, including:
Rumours about this character
Reactions to the character’s name
Warnings about this character
Advice on how to interact with the character
He provides a fantastic case study of Hannibal Lecter, going through all the ways in which the movie Silence of the Lambs works to build his reputation before he appears on screen. I was trembling just reading it! Jason Black also discusses this in his article in relation to Darth Vader.
But Who Are You?
Anne R. Allen provides a great list of things to consider when introducing your main character in particular. I recommend reading them all, but one of my favourites is that you need to establish who your character is before you throw them into headlong action. Provide us with some strong emotion we can identify with. Show us the way the protagonist interacts with the world–don’t leave him alone to brush his teeth, or her alone to drive to work.
What’s your favourite character entrance? Got any tips to add?
Introducing Characters Three Ways
Jason Black at Plot to Punctuation asks what Star Wars can teach us about character introductions.
Brian Hodge at Storytellers Unplugged says a character’s reputation should precede him (or her).
Anne R. Allen gives us 12 dos and don’ts for introducing your protagonist.