How to Introduce Characters in Your Writing
Good writing is filled with memorable character introductions. Here is some writing advice to help you introduce your characters as effectively as possible:
- Don’t get bogged down in physical appearance. When it comes to character introductions, it’s tempting to focus on physical character descriptions. However, rather than telling the reader that your character has brown hair and blue eyes, focus on describing a character’s personality and actions. Those details are more likely to capture your readers’ attention than rote descriptions of physical appearance. Use your reader’s imagination to your advantage: If you allow the reader to fill in their own physical details like height and eye color, that character is more likely to stick in the reader’s mind.
- Give your character a memorable character trait. Though it’s unwise to spend a ton of time describing mundane physical details, giving your characters memorable character traits or mannerisms early in the writing process can help you create distinct, instantly memorable characters. Including traits or mannerisms in your own story can help the reader differentiate between characters and gain insight into a character’s self-image. Old men who strain to have good posture despite their age might suggest that they value the appearance of formality and high status above all else. In a thriller, readers might infer that a character who insists on facing the door when sitting is used to being in danger.
- Start with backstory when appropriate. When you’re introducing a new character, it can be helpful to begin by describing the character’s backstory. There’s a big caveat to this: The backstory should be relevant to the character’s eventual story arc, focusing on formative events in the character’s life that support that arc. No one wants an info dump, wherein a seemingly endless string of exposition and irrelevant details serves as a substitute for meaningful character development. When done correctly, a backstory in an opening scene can help the reader connect emotionally with the character while also advancing the plot.
- Introduce a character through action. Whether it’s the main character, one of your minor characters, or one of the bad guys, watching a character undergo a daily task or routine is a great way to give the reader a sense of who they are and how they interact with the world around them. Witnessing a character in action not only gives the reader a sense of their temperament, general disposition, and point of view, it also allows them to intermingle with other types of characters who can fill in other details. This is why so many first scenes in screenwriting, novel writing, or short story writing take the reader through a major character’s morning routine: You can learn a lot about a character’s POV through their daily real-life habits and interactions.
- Introduce the main character as soon as possible. First-time screenwriters and novel writers often make the mistake of delaying their protagonist’s introduction in an attempt to build suspense, describe the setting, or focus on worldbuilding. While these things may be important, the real reason that readers hook into a book, movie, or another piece of creative writing is that they emotionally connect with the protagonist. Try to introduce your main character in the first chapter, which will allow the reader to become invested in the story and your hero’s journey as quickly as possible.
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